Owen ready to commit to Newcastle

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The Independent Football

Kevin Keegan's sense of deflation at Newcastle United following Monday's 2-0 home defeat to Chelsea should be eased by the telephone call Michael Owen's representatives are expected to receive from St James' Park within the next 72 hours. Newcastle are to open contract extension discussions with the man Keegan has made captain and while it is six weeks later than Keegan wanted, he has described Owen as the most significant signing Newcastle can make this summer.

Owen, 28, has one year left on his present contract and has said that he is more happy on Tyneside now than at any stage since his £17m transfer from Real Madrid in August 2005.

Owen will not be without alternatives and doubtless would like to have had his long-term future at St James' secured earlier. But his commitment to Newcastle, sometimes questioned during an injury-ravaged time at the club, seems renewed. "It's been a very good end to the season and we can look forward with renewed confidence to 2008-09," Owen said in the match programme on Monday.

However, Newcastle have a balancing act regarding the pay structure at St James'. Chairman Chris Mort repeated recently that the club Mike Ashley bought last May "had got itself in a bit of a mess" economically, a view re- enforced by the release of the last audit of the club under the Shepherd-Hall regime in March. It showed wages are now 72 per cent of turnover. Owen's are widely reported at £115,000 per week.

"We have to make sure we don't do a Leeds, where the club is unable to cope if success doesn't come," Mort said a fortnight ago. On Monday, he also pointed out that £30m was spent last summer on players and that Ashley has had to pump in an extra £100m "to avoid the club running into serious financial difficulties".

Keegan, whilst appreciative of that, has to argue his corner and his outburst on Monday ("we can't reach the Champions League in my time") was presumably half-aimed at those above. It is thought a combination of frustration at internal processes, plus a grim realisation of how far ahead are clubs like Chelsea, contributed to Keegan's words.

Unquestionably there is disappointment that Newcastle were beaten to a talent like Luka Modric by Tottenham rather than one of the top four, but that dismay is shared by those above Keegan. Were Modric on his way to Tyneside for next season, Keegan's tone would unlikely have been the same.

Newcastle have let Stephen Carr and James Troisi leave. Peter Ramage was offered a contract but the 24-year-old has just missed a season through injury and knows his chances at St James' will be limited. He has declined the offer and will move.

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