Owen's dazzling performance feeds the frenzy among Geordie faithful

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Had Owen's press conference come after 15,000 Newcastle supporters had issued a rousing welcome from the Sir John Hall Stand then his carefully chosen words might have sounded more heartfelt, although it was another performance of consummate professionalism by a man renowned for delivering in delicate situations.

The "Geordio Galactico", as the £17m striker has been christened by Freddy Shepherd, was spared an awkward interrogation on the subject of the get-out clauses that exist in his new four-year contract by the intervention of the Newcastle chairman.

But in keeping with his openness of the past week, the England international did expand on the reasons for a U-turn of such surprising proportions that one member of the St James' Park hierarchy had placed a wager with the club's manager, Graeme Souness, that he would not sign.

As expected, Owen had no choice. Once Madrid had made their position clear to the 25-year-old on Monday - that he would not start regularly under Wanderley Luxemburgo and that Liverpool's offer was not acceptable - Newcastle was the only club where he could rekindle his passion for regular first-team football.

"No, I wouldn't say Newcastle are second best, I have just been honest all along," said the player who has become Newcastle's new No 10 by virtue of his decision to reject Alan Shearer's offer of his No 9 shirt. "I said that a week ago and at that time I still had a few options. Obviously, I have an attachment to Liverpool and if that deal could have happened it would have been a big option, but as the deadline approached I realised that wouldn't be possible.

"I spoke to Liverpool but the deal couldn't come off, that's life. Half of my heart was pulling me back to the club where I have spent my entire football career apart from one season. There is nothing wrong in admitting that, but there comes a time when you know who wants you, how much they want you and how things are developing with the transfer. I met Rafael Benitez and I know what he thinks about me. I was very pleased coming out of that meeting with him. Why it didn't work out was nothing to do with that."

Liverpool did not have the ability or desire to match Newcastle's impressive statement of intent, but will monitor Owen's satisfaction at St James' in the knowledge that a £12m offer could trigger his departure. Both Souness and Shepherd bristled at any suggestion Owen was a reluctant arrival yesterday, though the chairman's ire truly came to the fore when his proudest acquisition was asked about the get-out clause.

Said Owen: "I am aware of what has been said and ..." At which point Shepherd interrupted his record signing to declare: "The statement says everything and we are not going to elaborate on it."

The statement, issued before the press conference commenced, insisted there was no get-out clause tied to next summer, although a £12m release fee dependent on Newcastle's final Premiership placing and qualification for European competition is written into the contract which Owen will review at the end of the season.

It read: "I have heard a little rumour that Michael has a clause in his contract which states that he can leave Newcastle United in one year's time. I can tell you now that he hasn't. Of course Michael has clauses in his contract; in this day and age all top players do, Alan Shearer does. But that is not one of them."

For now, however, and with ample justification, Newcastle are focusing on a four-year deal that they hope will ignite their season and their attempts to restore the pride that has been damaged by serial indiscipline and under-achievement.

The chairman, Shepherd, whose bold offer to Madrid blew Liverpool out of the race for their former striker, declared: "Geordies are the type of people who stick at it. We're not daunted. We get stuck in. OK, we get hurt a little, but we've always fought for everything. We never get anything easy up here so we went for it and that's good luck for Newcastle.

"I'll take you back to Rooney last summer. I never saw any other club or chairman throwing their hat into the ring for Rooney. We were the only ones who had the balls to do it. I didn't see the rest of them jumping in and having a go. We can be accused of many things, but never accused of not having a shot. We had a shot and this one came off - great."

He added: "I'm not being disrespectful to anyone, but I think we've done the Premier League proud with this one. We've done the League a good turn today by proving not everything is heading into London."

Indeed, Newcastle seem capable of extravagant spending as well. They were apparently ready to make a £25.9m bid for the Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres in case the Owen deal fell through. However, the Spanish club had no intention of selling.

Newcastle left nothing to chance in their efforts to entice their No 1 target to the North-east, with Shearer's offer to give up his own shirt perhaps influencing his former England team-mate's decision. "Alan offered it to me for his last season and that was a great gesture, but I would never have taken it off him," he said.

Owen admits a season spent mostly on the bench in Spain had dulled his appetite for the game. Second choice or not, Newcastle will now reap the benefits of his rekindled desire.

"I love the Premier League. I feel I belong here, and when it came down to either Newcastle or Real Madrid I didn't have a decision to make," he added.

"This is a big club but it is also a bigger club waiting to happen. I want to get the passion back in my game. The Spanish league is fantastic but it does not have the same passion as the English league.

"Unfortunately, Newcastle haven't won anything for a long time but, from a selfish point of view, that means that when we do win something it will be like the country winning the World Cup."

Fan's Eye View: 'He can become a legend - if he stays long enough'

It is just an unbelievable signing. I was shocked when I heard Michael Owen was coming. I'd been on the Underground and when I came up I had loads of texts telling me about it. I don't think it has really sunk in. It won't until he starts to play for us and gets his first goal.

I know Liverpool was Owen's first choice but I don't think people will hold it against him. He said at the press conference that he's signed a four-year deal with no get-out clause. I suppose I believe it. I can understand that he wanted to go back to Liverpool, he'd been there since he was a boy. But I know he will be 100 per cent committed to the cause here.

I can't wait to see him and Alan Shearer playing together. People say they didn't hit it off playing for England, but that doesn't worry me. They will be playing week in, week out so they'll get to know each other better. They've both changed since 2000, when they last played for England. Owen is more experienced and Shearer drops off a bit more. As long as they get the service they'll score a lot of goals together.

It's also rare good news for Graeme Souness and Freddy Shepherd. Now the board has got to give Souness a chance. They've given him nearly £50m to spend so they've got to give him another season to see if it works. As for the chairman, credit to him for bringing in a player of Owen's calibre. I didn't think he could even get him on loan. God knows where he's found the money. I don't think it means we're "doing a Leeds". They can't be that stupid.

Half the fee has already come from selling Jermaine Jenas to Tottenham, which is good business. When he arrived he was going to be the next Patrick Vieira but after a good first season he rarely delivered. Last year, with him and Kieron Dyer in midfield, we looked lightweight but with Scott Parker and Emre in there we look more solid. That should help the defence. It's no good Owen scoring loads of goals if we are letting them in at the other end.

And he will score - he's got plenty against us over the years. Now he can be a legend, if he stays long enough. He has pace, which we've missed since Craig Bellamy left. And unlike Bellamy he's a natural goalscorer - and he'll keep his mouth shut. It's such a great signing.

John Bradley is a life-long Newcastle supporter in exile in London