Owen secures £12m exit clause in £17m record deal to join Newcastle

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The Independent Football

Regardless, Newcastle were wallowing in the ambition and the negotiating prowess of their chairman, Freddy Shepherd, last night, who had made Real Madrid an offer they could not refuse for the 25-year-old and one Liverpool were unable to match.

Owen met Shepherd, his son, Kenny, the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, the club's coach, Dean Saunders, and player-coach, Alan Shearer, at a Northumberland hotel on Monday afternoon as Newcastle brought out the big guns in an attempt to persuade the forward to spurn the advances of his former club Liverpool. In the end, however, there was simply no option for Owen after Madrid told him they would not countenance Liverpool's offer of a season-long loan deal with a view to an £8m transfer next summer.

That left Owen in the agonising position of accepting a permanent move to the North-east or spending another season consigned to the bench at the Bernabeu, a situation he refused to accept in World Cup year, yet one that was certain to develop at Real following the arrival of Robinho and Julio Baptista. Liverpool had hoped the striker they sold to Madrid for only £8m last August would reject Newcastle outright and thereby test Real's resolve, but with only 48 hours left before the transfer window closes until January and his employers steadfast in their demands, an emotional Owen decided he could not afford to take that risk.

His commitment to a four-year contract at Newcastle still registered as a shock from Madrid to Merseyside, given that only six days earlier he had publicly revealed he hoped to play in Real's first team, join Liverpool permanently or, if all else failed, move to St James' only on a one-year loan. In effect, however, that is exactly what he has done after his adviser, Tony Stephens, agreed a get-out clause that will keep Anfield interest alive should he fail to settle at Newcastle.

Owen underwent a medical near his home in North Wales yesterday afternoon - provided all is is well he will sign this morning - and will make his first public appearance before the Newcastle faithful this afternoon, having been excused from England training in order to complete a transfer that will grant Sven Goran Eriksson his wish to see the striker in regular action in the build-up to Germany.

The transfer takes Newcastle's spending in the year since Souness replaced Sir Bobby Robson to almost £50m, a fair sum for a manager whose future is the subject of intense speculation. "It will be a great achievement if we sign Michael," said the Scot, showing caution in case of a late change of heart by Owen.

"He's the current England No 9 and this club has had a history of wonderful centre-forwards over the years. He's someone who can become a legend with Newcastle United fans. In football, the hardest thing to get in your team is someone who puts the ball in the back of the net and Michael is the best at doing that for England. I can understand people who liken it to the signing of Alan Shearer as Michael is the current England No 9. I'd say it's the biggest transfer I've been involved in as a manager of any football club."

Souness is currently at a training camp in Malaga with his non-international players, and will leave the presentation of Owen to his chairman at St James' Park. Shepherd admitted: "Bringing Michael to St James' Park will rank alongside the signing of Alan Shearer as my proudest moment at Newcastle United."

Newcastle's elation is in stark contrast to the atmosphere at Liverpool, who must now hope Djibril Cissé has not been too disheartened by their obvious attempts to fund a deal for Owen by selling the French forward, although the £14m striker made his feelings clear while on international duty yesterday.

"I don't want to leave Liverpool, but it's annoying me that I'm apparently being offered around the place to everyone," he said at Clairefontaine. "That's getting to me, mainly because it's not me who's asked to leave.

"First it was Newcastle, then Marseilles and, today, Monaco. I'm being sent all over. Maybe Monaco and Liverpool have contacted each other, but I haven't got a clue what's going on.

"Monaco wouldn't be my first choice anyway, not wanting to be disrespectful. I've never tried to hide that my preference in France would always be Marseilles. If I had to come back to Le Championnat, it would be to Marseilles, who are always in my heart."

The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, hopes to find a new centre-half before the midnight deadline, however, with a £5m offer for the Parma defender Daniele Bonera expected today.