Whelan asks questions of Owen's 'bottle and drive'

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The Independent Online

Even Wigan Athletic do not offer an escape route for Newcastle United's Michael Owen, it emerged last night, as the club's chairman, Dave Whelan, suggested he was overpaid and questioned whether he had "the urge, the bottle and the drive to do what the Premier League wants".

Whelan hoped that the answer to his question was a positive one. But Owen, out of contract on 30 June, is believed to be commanding a salary of around £110,000 a week at St James' Park and Whelan suggested that a player he tried to sign from Newcastle United for £15m before the 2006 World Cup would not earn quarter of that at his club.

"For us to pay someone over £25,000 a week is a hell of a lot of money. That's only my opinion. Everton and Liverpool might think differently. He's looking a bit injury prone, he loves his horses. I'm not criticising the lad. He has been a magnificent player and the lad can still do a hell of a job for somebody but I would think he will want to go to a much bigger club than Wigan."

Owen has rejected an £80,000-a-week new contract from Newcastle in the hope of becoming a free agent at the end of the season. A realistic deal for him would involve a £40,000-a-week salary including a £1m signing-on fee for a three-year deal.

It is difficult to see where he might go in Britain without taking a 50 per cent salary cut or more. Aston Villa have denied reports linking them with a £5,000-a-week deal. Everton might conceivably take him – but on a much lower income.

Whelan also suggested that Manchester United are in a three-way tussle – believed to involve Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – for their right winger Antonio Valencia. "We're just waiting now to see what's going to happen and what's coming to fruition," he said, in the course of unveiling their new manager Roberto Martinez at the JJB Stadium yesterday.

"Man Utd have got a meeting with us in the next three or four days, Real Madrid have got a meeting with us in the next three or four days and the other team have asked for a meeting," said Whelan. "We can't tell anybody where they're going to go and play. If Real offered £2m more than Man Utd or vice versa... it depends on where the lad wants to go."

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