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Owen joins Man United on two-year deal

MICHAEL Owen joined English champion Manchester United on a two-year contract yesteray, a striking reversal of fortunes for an injury-plagued striker who had been consigned to the England scrapheap by Fabio Capello.

The 29-year-old Owen was a free agent after his contract with relegated Newcastle expired, but said he did not see United as a potential destination until being phoned by manager Alex Ferguson on Wednesday.

"I never though it in my wildest dreams really - when I got the call from the manager to come and meet him it was a shock," Owen said. "I know there will be a few people saying the manager shouldn't have bought me."

Owen's agent had been so concerned about finding him a new club that he sent a 32-page brochure to clubs around Europe trumpeting his enduring qualities and rebutting fitness fears.

Though the likes of Wigan and Blackburn had dismissed the former Real Madrid and Liverpool player as past his prime, Ferguson is willing to take - as United's official Web site says - a calculated gamble.

"Michael is a world class forward with a proven goalscoring record at the highest level," Ferguson said. "That has never been in question,"

Ferguson needed another scorer to link up with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov after Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez both left Old Trafford last month. Only Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia has so far joined from Wigan.

After Owen discussed the move over breakfast with Ferguson on Thursday, he underwent stringent medical examinations on his troublesome right knee before the contract was signed.

"My fitness is high," the 2001 European player of the year said. "A lot is made out of it but I certainly don't feel like I'm injury prone."

United is reportedly paying a modest salary that is unlikely to reach the 110,000 pounds ($180,000) he was receiving each week at Newcastle. However, the salary could go up if he can rediscover his scoring form for Ferguson's side.

"I give him (Ferguson) my assurance that I will repay him with my goals and performances," Owen said.

Goals, though, were lacking at Newcastle, with Owen scoring just 10 times in 32 matches as the northeast club was relegated to the League Championship in May.

"I've had a poor spell up at Newcastle but prior to that my career was very good," he said. "I'm sure a top club like this can re-ignite my career."

Since United was humbled by Barcelona in the Champions League final loss in May, Ferguson has missed out on Karim Benzema, who opted to leave Lyon to join Ronaldo and Kaka at Madrid, and Franck Ribery, who is set to stay at Bayern Munich.

Even United's Web site acknowledges that the club will be portrayed as "the mugs who are left rummaging around bargain bins while Real sweep the shelves."

Owen featured in just 79 matches, scoring 30 goals in the four seasons since Newcastle paid a club-record 16 million pounds in 2005 to rescue him after a torrid year in Madrid.

As his Newcastle fortunes waned as his roll call of injuries lengthened - groin, calf, ankle, thigh, hernia, metatarsal and knee ligament to date - so did his England career.

That had begun with such devastating style in 1998 when, within months of his debut, the 18-year-old Owen dazzled the globe with a superb solo goal against Argentina at the World Cup.

But since featuring in a friendly 15 months ago against France, Capello has shown no desire to select Owen again despite his record of scoring 40 goals in 89 international appearances.

Joining United may not only resurrect his club career, but give him a chance of playing at a fourth World Cup as he would be reunited with Capello's first-choice forward Rooney at Old Trafford.

Owen is the only player to score for England in four major tournaments, and he also played in a fifth, the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but he damaged knee ligaments early in a group game against Sweden.

Owen's recent woes have overshadowed a once flourishing career. When still feared by opponents, his goals helped Liverpool win two League Cups, an FA Cup and a UEFA Cup between 2001 and '03.

Since he left Anfield for Real Madrid in 2004, however, he has won nothing.


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