Owen offered four-year deal as Ashley invests

The unpredictable nature of Mike Ashley's ownership of Newcastle United was revealed again yesterday when Michael Owen received a four-year contract offer – not three years as has been reported – and at a salary believed to be around £90,000 per week, not £80,000.

That is still a pay cut from Owen's present contract but nonetheless represents a commitment of £18m over four years to the 29-year-old striker. Add it to Joe Kinnear's recent statement that he has been given assurances of spending at least £12m in January and Ashley's regime could be considered to have a long-term plan as well as a desire to sell up.

Senior figures at St James' Park are understood to have begun to speak about "next season" in operational matters and with Ashley admitting at the weekend that he has received no credible bid for the club, it seems he has been forced to produce a financial strategy for 2009 and 2010.

There is also a growing belief that Ashley will return to St James' on a matchday soon and take up a seat in the directors' box. But there is no plan to rejoin fans in the Newcastle end at away games.

There is still silence from Ashley and from the managing director Derek Llambias but a statement of intent, allied to new signings, would help create an atmosphere of possible acceptance among Newcastle supporters.

With January approaching, Kinnear needs to get some guarantees about players' futures. Owen is only one of them. It is not known if he will sign the deal he has been presented with but Newcastle appear to have made a staggering offer, one that his advisors will do well to replicate or better elsewhere.

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