English Premier League champions Manchester United's move to sign striker Michael Owen on a surprise free transfer deal was nearing completion on Friday.
The 29-year-old arrived at United's training ground on Friday, having undergone an assessment of his knee injury Thursday. Owen had further tests at a Manchester hospital later Friday and then returned to Carrington, United's training ground, to complete the formalities of a deal which could be tied up before the end of the day.
His contract with Newcastle, relegated from the English top-flight last season, lapsed on 1 July and left Owen a free agent. It seemed the only clubs interested in signing the 29-year-old former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker were Stoke and Hull - both Premier League sides but teams for whom staying up was an achievement in itself.
However, they now appear to have been joined by United, who have seen forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez both leave Old Trafford since the end of last season. According to British press reports, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is reportedly planning to sign Owen, whose time at Newcastle was blighted by a succession of injury problems, on a pay-as-you-play deal.
Former Liverpool striker Ian Rush said a move to the Merseyside club's fiercest rivals could be the ideal tonic for Owen. "People have knocked Michael Owen all his career but he comes back bigger and better," Rush told Sky Sports. "People said he was finished years ago but he's a fantastic player who comes back stronger and better.
"It (the talk) won't worry him, I know the way he is and he doesn't have to prove anything anyway," Rush went on. "It's a chance for Michael to get back and score some goals. He'll get chances for Manchester United and will score goals."
Rush - who scored more than 200 goals for Liverpool in two spells either side of an unsuccesful stint in Italy with Juventus - said he'd like to see Owen back at Anfield. "Personally, I'd like to have seen him at Liverpool but they haven't lost their best strikers. He (Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez) will be happy with what he's got."
Owen's weekly wage at Newcastle, for whom he scored 10 goals last season, was believed to be around 197,000 USD but reports said he would take a substantial paycut to sign for a leading Premier League club.
The forward, who has scored 40 goals in 89 England appearances, has yet to persuade England coach Fabio Capello he has a future at international level. But Owen's career could be rejuvenated by playing alongside the likes of England striker Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford. United have yet to make a public comment about the proposed deal.