“All United have to show for £80million worth of pre-season prattle is an overpriced winger from Wigan Athletic that they could have picked up at any time over the past year and an eternally crocked striker” – Des Kelly

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I had just begun to talk to other clubs when out of the blue Sir Alex phoned me on Wednesday afternoon and invited me to have breakfast with him the next morning, during which he told me he wanted to sign me. I agreed without a moment’s thought. This is a fantastic opportunity for me and I intend to seize it with both hands. I am looking forward to being a Manchester United player. I want to thank Sir Alex for the faith he has shown in me and I give him my assurance I will repay him with goals and performances.” – Michael Owen.

Runner-up: “Michael is a world-class forward with a proven goalscoring record at the highest level and that has never been in question. Coming to Manchester United with the expectations that we have is something that Michael will relish.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Today’s overview: Having seen Michael Owen complete his move to Old Trafford on Friday, a polarised fifth estate try to make sense out of the most unlikely transfer of the window so far.

Unsurprisingly, the basic facts of the Owen’s deal remain a point of contention between the papers. At the high end of the scale The Sun’s Neil Custis blurts “Owen will earn a basic salary of £50,000-a-week – plus huge bonuses depending on goals and appearances.” Taking the middle road, the Telegraph’s Rory Smith reports that Owen will receive “a basic salary of around £30,000-a-week,” while looking to low-ball his fellow hacks the Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton scrawls “Ferguson must be impressed by the player’s willingness to drop his basic wage from £110,000 a week to nearer £20,000.”

With cautious optimism over the capture of Little Mickey, Kevin McCarra contends that the “Old Trafford squad has not contained a proven poacher since Ruud van Nistelrooy was sold to Real Madrid and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s career drew to a close… The question now is whether Owen can continue to meet that description.” Elsewhere, Patrick Barclay is upbeat over the possibility of Owen becoming United’s super-sub. “United may feel they can afford to take a chance, knowing from experience with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that a crock can still spring from the bench to win big matches. Owen could be an exciting option on the bench. I doubt if even Ferguson, with Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov to accommodate, envisages much more than that.”

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Martin Samuel is more open to celebrating Owen’s transfer out-of-hand. “If it comes off, there are dividends never previously imagined; if it does not, all sides are merely back where they started. The worst that can happen is that Manchester United do not win a fourth title but, having lost Cristiano Ronaldo, the player that provided the bulk of their goals, it could well have worked out like that anyway. Certainly, Ferguson will see this acquisition as one that gives him a greater chance, rather than the raising of the flag of surrender.”

While the happiest person on Fleet Street after United moved for Owen is the Independent’s James Lawton. “The idea that Sir Alex Ferguson’s investment in Michael Owen is the desperate throw of a football man looking into the skull’s head of a bleak and hopeless future is absurd… United, who were not awash with goals at vital points of last season, get one of the most practised hands in that vital department.”

Jason Burt appears to get a little carried away by forecasting the likelihood of Owen forcing his way back into the England reckoning, while Sam Wallace appears to get confused over whether the signing of Owen was a knee-jerk Fergie decision, or not. “It was not until the United manager learnt that he was out of the running for the former Lyons striker Benzema that he moved [for Owen. Yet…] sources close to the deal said that Ferguson had been considering Owen before he left for his summer holiday.”

Nevertheless, many remain surprised and unconvinced by Manchester United’s first main signing this summer.

Calling the signing “difficult to digest,” James Ducker questions Fergie’s move for Owen. “If Owen represents Ferguson’s only venture into the transfer market this summer for a striker, as appears likely, there can be little doubt that the United manager will have taken a gamble. If it is not a financial one, it is one that relies heavily on Owen staying fit and showing he can still perform at the highest level.” For Louise Taylor, “there are fears that Owen will be ill-suited to the often kaleidoscopic inter-changing United’s attacking players regularly indulge in and, moreover, lacks the coruscating change of pace now regarded as mandatory for elite strikers.”

Yet Des Kelly steps up to read the riot act against Ferguson. “All United have to show for £80million worth of pre-season prattle is an overpriced winger from Wigan Athletic that they could have picked up at any time over the past year and an eternally crocked striker, who has been subject to more doctors’ scrutiny than Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient. Is that really the best they could do?… Maybe Owen Hargreaves is lonely and needs company in the physiotherapist’s room?”

Many of the papers today band together to collectively agree that Manchester City have refused to give up the pursuit of Chelsea’s JT.

As explained by Daniel Taylor, “City are to persist in their attempts to sign John Terry amid a growing sense within the club that the Chelsea captain is seriously considering his future and could be tempted by a salary that would almost double his current pay.” Jason Burt adds fuel to the flames of this story writing “unlike in January, however, when Chelsea first refused City permission to speak to the defender, Terry has not, as yet, issued his own statement. He is currently on holiday.”

For Sam Wallace, Terry’s decision to stay at Chelsea is financially based. “If City are prepared to pay the kind of wages to eclipse Terry’s current salary – not to mention offer him a better chance of challenging Manchester United for the Premier League – then there is the potential for the player to be persuaded.” Playing up the speculated figures involved, Shaun Custis claims they have definite knowledge that “John Terry has been offered a record-busting £300,000-A-WEEK to join Manchester City.”

Britain’s favourite red-top then sends the shivers up Blues fans’ backs as Paul Jiggins swears that “Real Madrid are on the verge of bidding for Ashley Cole after he rejected a new Chelsea deal… Cole, currently on £70,000 a week, also interests European champions Barcelona.”

The sad story that is Newcastle United continues this Saturday with the Magpies still desperate for a new owner.

Limited optimism is on the horizon with Louise Taylor reporting that “a Malaysian consortium reportedly submitted an £80m bid to Mike Ashley for control of Newcastle United yesterday… observers fear that legal and financial barriers could dictate that things are destined to drag on for a few more weeks yet.” The Sun’s Carl Long claims to have the inside track on this story, printing “media mogul Ananda Krishnan (pictured) is closing in on a deal to end Mike Ashley’s nightmare two-year Toon reign – and hopes to make an announcement early next week. The £95million deal for the club represents loose change to the 71-year-old, who is South East Asia’s third-richest man worth £4.5billion.”

In other news, the Guardian publicise how Stoke City have pulled off a major coup to arrange for Muhammad Ali to visit the Britannia Stadium in August.

Tucked away in the final paragraph of a James Ducker article on Liverpool is scary news over the financial position of Tom Hicks. “Hicks is rumoured to have run into further financial difficulty with reports in the United States claiming that he has had to borrow money from Major League Baseball to help to pay the wages of his Texas Rangers players.”

We finish up with the latest transfer lies to be spread in the Saturdays, once again with the Daily Mail leading the gossip-mongering with a series of no-named articles.

Probably too frightened to put their name to a piece which virtually confirms Xabi Alonso’s departure from Anfield, a faceless Daily Mail article farts “Liverpool have targeted Gokhan Inler to reinforce their midfield once they lose Xabi Alonso… [Benitez] has been alarmed at Udinese’s £18million asking price for Switzerland midfielder Inler.” This story is given a fresh angle by Alan Nixon in the Mirror, claiming “Xabi Alonso will get his dream move from Liverpool to Real Madrid – if Rafa Benitez takes striker Alvaro Negredo in a swap deal.”

In a second article in the pseudo-tabloid we learn that “Steve Bruce is trying to steal a march on Arsenal with a £12million bid to sign Bordeaux’s Marouane Chamakh for Sunderland,” and the Daily Mail also invent that “Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly in talks to sign promising Real Madrid striker Alvaro Negredo.”

More faceless articles appear in The Sun where we are told that “the Black Cats are ready to make [£10million-rated Darren] Bent the first of at least four new faces with Wigan’s Lee Cattermole and Manchester City defender Richard Dunne top of Bruce’s hit-list.”

Finally, The Independent’s daily transfer round-up column today reports that “former Italy striker Christian Vieri, 35, is set to sign for Blackburn Rovers, according to reports in Italy.”

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