Michael Owen, having recovered from a dose of the mumps and a strained calf, will be on Newcastle United's bench for the visit of Bolton Wanderers today, his manager, Kevin Keegan, confirmed yesterday. And Owen's longer-term future at St James' Park will be on the agenda next Wednesday when Keegan sees his superiors for a meeting that will encompass transfers and contracts as Newcastle seek to build on Sunday's impressive draw at Old Trafford.
Keegan's tone has changed markedly in the past week and there was no exasperation in his mention of imminent talks with the club's owner, Mike Ashley, and the chairman, Derek Llambias. But pinning down Owen's contractual status is a priority.
Keegan said he was "fairly relaxed" about the situation. "But I will know more when we sit down next Wednesday. I have not been party to these talks, meaning I have not been in the room, but I have been informed and don't see any reason why all these players – whose contracts have got to certain stages – why we can't secure all those players [including James Milner and Steve Harper]," he added.
Keegan denied he was concerned that Owen has been allowed to go into the final year of his contract, thereby making him free to talk to other clubs in January, but he said he wanted the issue resolved soon.
"I can honestly say if it comes to January then the chances are he won't be [staying], but I don't think it will go to January. I am not completely in the loop but I know a lot of what has gone on and we will have a better idea then."
Regarding Owen's potential return to the England team, should the striker come through unscathed in the next week, Keegan said: "If he is playing for Newcastle United, and he is fit, then they are entitled to call him. Now, would I be entirely happy about it? I suppose from a selfish point of view, you would say it is a lot of games very quickly. But if he is fit and gets called up, we certainly will not pull him out."