Owen holds no interest for Benitez to pursue

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The Independent Football

Benitez's public declaration follows on from that of the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, who insisted on Sunday that he was similarly looking to strengthen other areas of his team rather than add a striker.

Arsenal's priority is to secure a goalkeeper and they want to sign the 22-year-old Uruguayan Sebastian Viera to replace Jens Lehmann.

It seems certain that Owen will leave Real Madrid following the arrival of Robinho and Julio Baptista, who yesterday completed his move from Seville having snubbed Arsenal. Owen seems sure to return to the Premiership after just one season away. With Chelsea showing little interest in the England striker, it appears his only attractive option may turn out to be United - despite undoubted interest from Newcastle United. However, Newcastle's lack of a similar profile - and Champions' League football - is unlikely to prove attractive to Owen or his advisers, SFX.

As yet Manchester United have not made an offer - and Owen is yet to be told formally by Madrid that he should go - but Sir Alex Ferguson is a known admirer of the 25-year-old and has been told that funds are available. It is thought likely that Owen would cost around £11m, although with United aware that they are not in a bidding race they may bide their time.

Yesterday Benitez distanced himself from speculation regarding Owen who he sold last summer for £8m plus Antonio Nuñez, who recently left Liverpool to return to Spain. Having signed Peter Crouch for £7m from Southampton, Benitez said his priority was to recruit another central defender. "We have a lot of strikers now, who I am happy with, and, for me, the most important thing at the moment is to protect Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher," Benitez explained.

"They cannot play 50 games each season. We are looking for a centre back and not a centre forward. We are not thinking about centre forwards now. We have some ideas but I prefer not to talk about names, only to talk about names afterwards."

If Owen did join Manchester United, it would hasten the departure of the striker Louis Saha - although the Frenchman is likely to leave in any case with Monaco the latest club to register an interest.