Real Madrid finally
announced the arrival of Liverpool's former European Footballer of the
Year Michael Owen in their ranks.
The Spanish giants said Owen, who passed medical examinations on Friday,
would be presented to the fans and media on Saturday.
Owen joins Real for a fee believed to be in the region of 12 million
euros with the likelyhood of 25-year-old Real midfielder Antonio Nunez
moving to Anfield as a makeweight. Real did not confirm contract details.
The 24-year-old 2001 European Footballer of the Year arrived in Madrid
at 1550 GMT on Friday from the Torrejon de Ardoz airport on the
outskirts of the capital in the company of his wife and personal
assistant before going straight to a clinic for medical tests.
The terms of the deal for Owen falls well short of Liverpool's initial
valuation of their star striker.
But the reality was that Real held all the aces because Liverpool,
having given up on efforts to persuade Owen to sign a new contract,
initiated the sale, knowing that the 24-year-old could have walked away
for nothing next summer.
Liverpool had hoped to get 10 million pounds for Owen plus a replacement
striker, either Fernando Morientes or Samuel Eto'o.
Instead, unheralded midfielder Nunez emerged as the favourite to be the
makeweight in the deal.
Any hope of Morientes moving to Anfield was scuppered when he played in
Real's Champions League qualifier earlier this week, ensuring he would
be ineligible to play for any other club later in the competition.
Eto'o, who has played for Real Mallorca since 2000, has meanwhile opted
for a move to Barcelona.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is expected to use the funds raised by
the sale of Owen to go towards the signing of 26-year-old midfielder
Luis Garcia from Barcelona.
Benitez is already in advanced negotiations aimed at bringing Real
Sociedad's highly-rated holding midfielder Xabi Alonso to Anfield,
although that deal could yet be hijacked by Real Madrid following the
collapse of their efforts to sign Patrick Vieira, who announced Friday
that he was staying at Arsenal.
Owen's departure from the club he has been associated with since he was
11 years old became inevitable at the start of the week when Benitez
abruptly called a halt to negotiations with the player that had been
dragging on for over a year.
The striker was then left on the bench in the club's 2-0 win over
Austrian club AK Graz in a Champions League qualifier, ensuring he would
able to play for Real later in the competition.
Benitez, who guided Valencia to two Spanish titles in three years, felt
able to sanction the sale of his star striker because of the arrival of
14-million-pound striker Djibril Cisse and the form of Milan Baros, who
was outstanding for the Czech Republic at Euro 2004.
The Spanish manager has also dropped hints that he felt Owen was
overrated and wielded too much influence in the Anfield dressing room.
Despite his consistent record of scoring, the England striker's best
form has come only in erratic bursts recently and injuries have taken
the edge off the pace he enjoyed as a teenager.
He has also never managed to forge a successful partnership with any
other striker at Liverpool.
Owen has spoken in the past of his desire to play in Spain or Italy and
one of his closest friends, former England striker Gary Lineker,
believes he will thrive in La Liga.
Lineker, who had a successful spell at Barcelona in the 1980's, said: "I
think Michael has the qualities to succeed. He's been one of the top
goalscorers in world football for a long time and playing up front in a
side like Real Madrid you would fancy him to score a few goals given the
creativity in that side.
"It's time for Michael to have a fresh challenge."
Owen will not be guaranteed a place in the Real first team but Lineker
believes he would benefit from competing with the likes of Raul and
"Raul was struggling all last season and was poor in Euro 2004 and
Ronaldo has had his injuries as well," Lineker said.
"All the big teams now have large squads and if you're going to be a
world-class player it's a challenge you would want to take."