Real start public auction for Owen

Michael Owen’s future is now being debated in public with Real Madrid starting their well-worn tactics of leaks to the press to stir up interest and pressure. If Real want a player you can guarantee the press will know all about it – a good way of getting a player to demand a transfer. With Owen they are trying to get rid of him for as much money as possible.

Real have had three different coaches since Owen signed, so it’s no surprise they have got bored with the England star. They bought him for £8million last August, but also gave the player a four-year contract believed to be worth around £20million. If Owen is to leave now they’ll need to pay him some of the remaining money left on his deal, so they will want a good fee for him. The latest figure leaked to the Spanish press by Real is around £14million, way over the amount that most English clubs will pay a player they know Real are desperate to offload.

Today Newcastle’s chairman Freddy Shepherd told his club’s official website that they have made contact with Real Madrid over Michael Owen. He said: "We’ve had a discussion with Madrid, but we won’t be commenting further on any speculation."

Real are acutely aware though that Owen does not fancy a move to St James’s Park. Newcastle finished 14th in the league last season, have just been knocked out of the Intertoto Cup and are managed by Graeme Sounness – by far from a popular figure with Liverpool fans. Real want to sell the player though, so today they released the following statement: "Newcastle are very interested in Owen. They are following him closely and are showing the most concrete interest. However there are other sides showing an interest, including Manchester United." This statement came from Real spokesman Antonio Garcia Ferreras.

The trouble was, it seems that Real’s spokesman was mistaken. Manchester United released their own statement almost immediately, refuting the claims. Short and to the point, the United communications director Phil Townsend said: "We have had no contact with Real Madrid over Michael Owen."

The main problem for Real is that they know Owen prefers a move home to Anfield above all other moves. Newcastle are out of Europe and out of touch of the league leaders. Moving to United would see him become a hate figure and Owen would not be comfortable with that. Arsenal is preferable to United, but means a move to the south for the player, something he’s not too keen on.  Liverpool need to raise funds to buy Owen, and then the player will dig his heels in at Madrid until they accept the offer. How much it will take for Real to give in remains to be seen, but by releasing the "news" about contact from Old Trafford, they hoped to up the price for the player.

Madrid still owe money to Liverpool for Owen, believed to be around three to four million. No club is likely to pay more than £12million for Owen this summer. Liverpool are hoping for £7million for Milan Baros, meaning a couple more million would bring them in touch distance of Owen’s fee. And if Owen refuses to move anywhere else, Real will have to decide whether to accept Liverpool’s bid, or pay high wages for the fifth-choice striker.

Milan Baros was linked again with a move to Lyon today, and the Liverpool Echo believes that the player will leave within the next 48 hours. Baros is also attracting interest from Monaco.

The biggest stumbling block for Baros over a move to Lyon is that it means him linking up with a manager he didn’t like previously. Gerard Houllier signed Baros for the Reds, but Baros felt under-used by the Frenchman and was looking for a move before Benitez took charge. Lyon do have the promise of Champions League football though, and Houllier feels that Baros would do well if paired with John Carew. Monaco have registered interest, but haven’t made a bid. The Echo says that Anfield officials have seen interest increase in the Czech star over the weekend, but that Aston Villa and Everton have dropped out of the chase.

Baros is out of the squad again for Liverpool’s next Champions League match. The Echo say that money from the sale of Baros is earmarked not for Owen, but for a new centre-half. Deportivo’s Jorge Andrade is the player most strongly linked, but the Spaniards say he isn’t for sale.

To prove that Liverpool perhaps have more money to spend than they are letting on, there is talk that the Reds will try and sign the Brazilian winger Daniel Alves from Seville – and he’s rated at £6million. This follows on from Luis Figo’s decision to make more money for himself at Inter Milan, turning down what would have been a free-transfer to Anfield.