Michael Owen is expected at Manchester United for a medical examination this morning ahead of an extraordinary move out of the wilderness to join the Premier League champions.
Owen, a player dumped by the England manager, Fabio Capello, and widely written off as an individual lacking the appetite and physical fitness to make it in the top flight, is expected to have signed by the end of today, provided he passes a medical which is likely to be stringent, given his injury record.
For the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, it would be the fulfilment of an old ambition, as he admired Owen when the striker was a youngster in Liverpool's youth set-up. "We wanted to sign him," Ferguson once said. "But we weren't prepared to meet his father's requirements so he signed for Liverpool."
It is unclear how much Owen (right) will earn but it seems likely his salary at United will be highly incentivised, with Ferguson presumably harbouring the same concerns as his friend Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn manager, that after four years of persistent injury during his spell with Newcastle United at St James' Park he may lack the physical durability to play a role at Old Trafford. A one-year rolling deal seems possible. For Owen, the incentives also include proving to Capello that he warrants a World Cup place at next summer's finals in South Africa.
United's move for the 29-year-old has been a rapid one, born out of the circumstances of a dismal summer in which they have lost their most significant player, Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, and been beaten to their prime transfer target by the same club. United had definitely been in contact with the French champions Lyons about their 21-year-old striker Karim Benzema in recent days, only to see Real steal him from under their noses in Wednesday's €35m (£30m deal.)
United's interest in Owen pre-dates the bid for Benzema. They are known to have received the 34-page brochure produced by his representatives to assert his qualities and there has been interest in the player's qualities that it has raised. Contrary to reports at the time, Ferguson was not interested in signing Owen when he left Real Madrid four years ago, despite the best efforts of his representatives then. But now, United are in dire need of supporting options for Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney and appear to believe that Owen – out of contract Newcastle – could be a valuable impact player, perhaps arriving from the bench in the way that Carlos Tevez did last season.
While outlay on Owen is a risk for lesser clubs, with Hull City the only other one actively interested, United will not be hurt by the relatively modest salary which Owen might be prepared to accept. He rejected a four-year contract at Newcastle in April, believed to be worth around £90,000 per week, to trigger the departure from the club he wanted. But it has been apparent that he might be willing to accept as little as £40,000 a week to move on a free transfer, attempt to resurrect his Premier League career and rekindle the success of his eight years at Liverpool, where he scored 118 goals in 216 appearances before leaving for the Bernabeu in 2004.
The prospect of Owen moving to Old Trafford was floated by The Independent yesterday, after United's pursuit of Benzema came to nothing, and after internet traffic during the morning the odds about Owen moving to Old Trafford had shortened from 20-1 to an astonishing 7-4 by early afternoon. The move offers the bonus for him of a working life near to his base at Hawarden, on Deeside.Reuse content