Despite reports that sources at Real have said that Owen is surplus to requirements, his agents SFX have not been told that they are permitted to find a new club for their client. It leaves Owen in a difficult position at Real, with last week's signing of Robinho, in addition to the purchase of Seville's Julio Baptista, a clear threat to his status within the team.
United have enquired about Owen's availability once before, in the months before they signed Louis Saha from Fulham in January 2004, and were told by Liverpool at the time that he was not for sale. Although received wisdom suggests that United are already blessed with strikers, Saha is rated as expendable and there are doubts over whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will ever regain the form he enjoyed before his knee injury.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who returned from Japan yesterday with his squad, is known to admire Owen and tried to sign him as a schoolboy player before he joined Liverpool and attended the Football Association's now defunct centre of excellence at Lilleshall. Owen's camp are hopeful of an indication from United that they would be interested in the player this week, but a source close to them said that the possibility of a bid was "60-40" against Old Trafford making a move.
The signings of Baptista, for £13.7m, and Robinho, for a fee that could rise to more than £20m, are hardly likely to reinforce Owen's optimism about his position at Real. However, Baptista is regarded more as an attacking midfielder while Robinho, 21, from Santos, is yet to be tested in Europe. The most persuasive argument for Owen returning is understood to be from his parents and siblings, who have long had doubts about his move to Real.
Arsenal have also been linked with the player, but would suffer from having shown their hand in the bidding process for Baptista, in which they offered around £13m. Real would attempt to negotiate a similar sum for Owen, assuming Arsenal were interested. However, their manager, Arsène Wenger, last night distanced himself from a move for the player. "We have not made a bid for Michael Owen," Wenger said. "At the moment I am not looking for a striker, but other areas I am looking at."
There is little that SFX can do on Owen's behalf until they are told that the club are willing to let him negotiate with potential new clubs.
The fee for Owen would have to be consistent with United's business plan, which is being devised by the club's new owners, the Glazer family. However, United's new financial year starts this month, which should mean that they are free of the restraints imposed by the purchase of Wayne Rooney last summer. His unplanned acquisition forced the United chief executive David Gill to say at the time that the transfer budget for the following summer had been spent.
On Saturday, United's tour of the Far East ended with a 2-0 victory over the Japanese J-League side Urawa Red Diamonds, a win that owed much to the contribution of Rooney, whose second goal was chipped home after a run that took the striker past four defenders. Ruud van Nistelrooy missed the game with a mild case of food poisoning while back in England Roy Keane turned out for a United side that beat Walsall 4-2.
Gillhas said that supporters' misgivings about the Glazers or Rio Ferdinand's refusal to sign a new contract will not affect the side's performances in the new season. He also defended his decision to stay at United despite the supporters' hostility towards the Glazers.
"Obviously, we would like everyone behind us and we do believe the vast majority are," he said. "But we are also realistic and we have to recognise and accept the right for peaceful protest.
"We are talking about a very small minority who will always be there. Perhaps it is a bit more vocal at the moment but they didn't like us being a plc and they didn't like it when the Edwards family were running the club.
"But the players are pretty resilient. The personal stuff is not going to affect Rio's performances and the overall situation will not affect the team's."
In the last 12 months of the United plc, the board twice rejected Glazer takeover bids, but Gill said that had not affected their relationship.
"I'm not going to shy away from the fact that I was part of a board which said that we found the [takeover] plans aggressive when they were made public," he said.
"But it is what it is and we've got to look positive and to the future. It's a two-way street, we can learn from the Glazers and they can learn from us."
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