Michael Owen plunged Newcastle United into further chaos yesterday when he gave the clearest signal yet that he will be leaving the club in the summer. Owen announced he would not sign a new contract this season and will wait until July to make his decision, by which time he will be a free agent.
Owen went public with his intentions just days after the interim manager Joe Kinnear had claimed the player would make a definitive decision over his future this week. Instead of signing the £90,000-a-week contract offered this week, Owen seems destined to walk out the club that signed him for £17.5m in 2005 for nothing. Having achieved the lucrative status of a free agent, it is inconceivable the player would decide to re-sign.
Nevertheless, Owen, who released the statement via his management company WMG, attempted to sugarcoat his decision by pledging to Newcastle supporters that he would not leave in January. "My decision is not about money," he said. "I told the club some months ago that I would accept a reduction in my wages." He added that he hoped it would be seen as "a positive step" and "not seen as being disloyal".
Given the usual secretiveness surrounding Owen and WMG, it is surprising that he has decided to declare his hand so openly, with the club's supporters unlikely to be impressed. The Newcastle fans are not quite so likely to see this as an act of loyalty. There is only one person who will benefit from Owen delaying his decision and that is Owen himself.
He could give no promises as to his future beyond the summer. "Following speculation about my future at Newcastle United, I have decided to make it clear that I am committed to the club until at least the end of this season, and I have informed them I do not want to make a decision about my future until that time.
"I have no intention of leaving Newcastle during the January transfer window and want to assure the fans that, under Joe Kinnear's passionate management, I am committed with the rest of the players to ensure that the club ends the season on a high."
Owen has made just 52 starts for Newcastle since joining from Real Madrid in 2005, a statistic indicative of his injury problems. It also demonstrates why many Newcastle fans feel that the player owes the club something. However, with Nicky Butt, Steve Harper, Mark Viduka and Shola Ameobi all coming to the end of their contracts this season, and their futures unresolved, these are uncertain times for Newcastle.
Kinnear said last night: "Michael told me in person about his decision and I fully understand where he is coming from. We have a great relationship as captain and manager and that will certainly continue. He is focused on scoring goals for Newcastle and helping us keep progressing this season. Michael will consider his options in the summer, but I am still optimistic he will stay with us."