Newcastle United have now shown what might have been the real reason for their "bid" for Michael Owen – to put the frighteners on Albert Luque and his club Deportivo la Coruna.
Newcastle revealed earlier in the week that they had made a bid to Real Madrid for Owen, believed to be £16million. The buzz coming out of St James’s Park was that Newcastle were big hitters in the transfer market and that Owen was on his way. Trouble was, after all of the fanfare of their announcement, they basically gave Owen just 24 hours to make his mind up – a permanent move or no move at all. Owen had earlier said that he was willing to go to play for the Toon if he could not get a deal with Liverpool, but only on loan. Sounness said that was just not on. In fact in all likelihood the deal was never on in the first place.
Behind the scenes Newcastle were putting pressure on Deportivo to accept a bid for Luque. Earlier in the week a bid of £7.5million was rejected, but on Thursday the Spanish club accepted a bid for 14 million euros – £9.5million. Luque has agreed terms and now just awaits his medical.
Freddie Shepherd, Newcastle chairman, had said the deadline for Owen to sign was yesterday. Sounness seems to be on a different agenda however, saying: "Our offer for Michael is still on the table, we’ve spoken to his advisors and they’re considering it." Perhaps Sounness isn’t fully in the picture, Shepherd won’t have a lot of patience left with Sounness, who’s team have managed only one point from a possible nine in their opening games. After finishing in the bottom half of the table last year their only hope of qualifying for Europe was through the Intertoto – and they failed in that too.
Unless Shepherd has changed his mind, Real are running out of options. Owen has made it clear that if he’s not part of Real’s starting line-up then he wants a return to the Premiership. He’s ruled out a move to France and Gerard Houllier’s Lyon. Manchester United confirmed they had no interest in signing the player – after Real’s propaganda machine tried to bring them into the running to prompt an auction. Arsenal have also admitted they like the player but have no intention of signing him. So Owen joins Liverpool or stays at Real. Owen’s already made it clear he wants to come back to Anfield.
Madrid and Liverpool now need to meet somewhere in the middle. Madrid won’t get what they want for the player. Liverpool will pay a sensible amount for him.
Rick Parry, Liverpool’s Chief Executive, gave little away when interviewed at yesterday’s Champions League draw. He said: "Wait and see. There’s been far too much speculation on it already. Let’s just rely on facts and we’ll see when we get to that day." The day in question being the closure of the transfer window next week. Speaking about stories that he and David Moores (the Liverpool Chairman) had been overruling Rafa Benitez over the signing of the player, Parry said these stories were untrue. He said: "My personal feelings do not have anything to do with it. One myth that can be dispelled is there’s never been a difference of opinion between Rafa and me. We’re just keeping our counsel." The truth is that Liverpool want Owen, for a sensible price. They will not be ripped off, and so the negotiation continues: "There’s some work to do and it’s a few days before the deadline, so we’ll see."
The Reds are still looking for reinforcements in other areas, and one target is Bolton’s Stelios Giannakopoulos. Bolton value him at £2.5million, Liverpool at closer to £1million. Stelios is now in the final year of his contract, so would be available for nothing next summer. Trotters boss Sam Allardyce was at Anfield earlier in the week watching Liverpool lose against CSKA Sofia. He says he didn’t speak about Stelios, but was losing hope of keeping the player: "I’m not confident we will keep him. I really think he may leave – I’m 50-50 at best."