England star Michael Owen has made a surprise move to English champions Manchester United.

Predatory striker Owen, 29, has played for Newcastle United since 2005, and they were relegated from the Premiership this year.

His contract with Newcastle has just run out, so United were able to sign him for free, so they didn't have to spend any of the 80 million they were given by Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Owen is a goal machine. He has played 40 times for England, during which he has scored 89 goals, which puts him fourth in the list of all-time top scorers for the England team, behind Bobby Charlton (49 goals), Gary Lineker (48 ) and Jimmy Greaves (44). He has also scored a record 26 goals for England in competitive matches (World Cup and European Championship games and the qualifiers for those tournaments).

He was named European Footballer of the Year in 2001.

He made his competitive debut for England against Romania during the 1998 World Cup, a game in which he scored, and then in the same tournament scored the memorable goal against Argentina, one of the greatest in World Cup history: he got a pass from Scholes and took on the Argentinian defence, passing Chamot and Ayala with his speed and running diagonally to his right and towards goal - he then struck the ball hard from 14 yards past the Argentinian goalkeeper and into the net to make it 2-1 to England.

Many Manchester United fans will not be happy with the signing of Owen, as he used to play for their deadliest rivals, Liverpool, when he scored 158 goals in eight seasons.

But his time at Newcastle was blighted with injury, and wasn't able to provide them with the number of goals he could have - he scored 30 in four seasons there. Even when he did play, the team hadn't enough quality to feed him the ball often enough for his to bag the goals.

He also played for Real Madrid for a year, scoring 14 goals.

But if he avoids injury at United, then he should provide them with bagfuls of goals during the time he is there - and his strike partnership with Wayne Rooney at Man Utd may also be a boost for England at next year's World Cup.

BBC Sport

A bargain: Michael Owen has sighed for free for champions Manchester United

Owen said United's interest in him came as a surprise, adding: "I had just begun to talk to other clubs when out of the blue Sir Alex phoned me on Wednesday afternoon, invited me to have breakfast with him next morning during which he told me that 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.

ENGLAND 89 games, 40 goals
LIVERPOOL (Trainee - August 2004) 297 games, 158 goals
REAL MADRID (August 2004 - August 2005) 40 games, 14 goals
NEWCASTLE (August 2005 - July 2009) 79 games, 30 goals

"I am now looking forward to being a Manchester United player and I am fortunate that I already know so many of the players here.

"I missed pre-season last year and am pleased that I will be starting from day one.

"I'd like to think that everyone was quite surprised with my medical.

"I've obviously passed them before, and my fitness is high. A lot is made out of it but I certainly don't feel like I'm injury prone.

"I want to thank Sir Alex for the faith he has shown in me and I give him my assurance that I will repay him with my goals and performances."

Owen scores THAT wonder goal during England's match against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup

Owen had checks on an old knee injury in London on Thursday before undergoing a full medical at the private Bridgewater Hospital in Manchester on Friday.

He has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, suffering with groin, ankle, thigh, hernia, metatarsal and knee ligament problems.

The 2001 European footballer of the year has dropped out of the England squad, but a move to United gives Owen the chance to revitalise his career, even if it involved accepting a lower basic salary.

It was reported by the Press Association that Ferguson has struck a pay-as-you-play deal, with the player also taking a significant salary cut from the 110,000-a-week wages he was said to be on at St James' Park.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, 67, will he hoping Owen provides the team with plenty of goals

Ferguson has been a long time admirer of Michael Owen and has decided to gamble on the striker who has proven himself a prolific scorer at both club and international level when fit.

Since losing the Champions League final to Barcelona at the end of May, Manchester United have sold forward Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for 80m and failed to persuade striker Carlos Tevez to stay at Old Trafford.

The departure of those two players has left Ferguson with a shortage of strikers, with Fraizer Campbell also likely to be sold.

United have been linked with Lyon striker Karim Benzema, who is set to join Real, while Bayern Munich forward Franck Ribery has been linked with a move to the Madrid club rather than the English champions.

Owen made 79 appearances for the Magpies and scored 30 goals in four seasons at St James' Park.

But an ankle injury and groin operation severely disrupted his final year at the club, with the last of his 10 league goals for the 2008-09 campaign coming against West Ham on 10 January.

Ferguson has previously shown his willingness to take a chance on players like the enigmatic Eric Cantona or stars that have suffered serious injury problems like Henrik Larsson.

Pete Spencer, sports editor of the Manchester Evening News, said: "It is a bold move. It could put them at risk of the fans mocking them because they've missed out on Benzema and Ribery.

"Owen will have a lot to do make sure that he overcomes the natural hatred between Manchester United and Liverpool, although he has been at Newcastle for some time.

"United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a record of older players doing well at United and if Owen has got anything like the pace he had before then he should be a hit. Who's to argue with Sir Alex Ferguson?"

And former Liverpool striker Ian Rush admitted he would have liked to have seen Owen return to Anfield, saying: "Personally, I'd like to have seen him at Liverpool but they haven't lost their best strikers. Rafael Benitez will be happy with what he's got.

"I know the way he is and he doesn't have to prove anything anyway. It's a chance for Michael to get back and score some goals. He'll get chances for Manchester United and will score goals."

Even so, the move for Owen represents something of a gamble for Ferguson, given Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce ruled out a move for the striker earlier this week because of concerns over his fitness.

Owen (right) is already familiar with a number of Man Utd players. Here he is with England team mates Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, both of Man Utd.

"I just question the injury scenario," said Allardyce.

"I need a striker that's going to be available for 30 games next season. That's not happened for Michael over the last four years."

After Newcastle were relegated to the Championship, Owen expressed his desire to remain in the Premier League.

The Wasserman Media Group (WMG), the management company that represents him, sent out a brochure to a number of clubs reminding them of the talent that resulted in the striker scoring 158 goals in 297 games for Liverpool and 40 goals in 89 appearances for England.

Owen's move to Old Trafford could revive the former Liverpool striker's hopes of resurrecting his international hopes and taking part in the 2010 World Cup, especially as he will now be playing alongside England striker Wayne Rooney.

He has been marginalised by England manager Fabio Capello and has won just one cap under the Italian, as a substitute in the 1-0 friendly defeat by France in Paris on 26 March, 2008.

Owen's exploits in helping Liverpool to win the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and League Cup in the 2000/2001 season led to his European footballer of the year award in December 2001.

Manchester United factfile

English champions: Old Division One: 1908, 1911, 1952, 1956, 1957, 1965, 1967/ Premiership: 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009
Runners-up: 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1959, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2006
FA Cup winners: 1909, 1948, 1963, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004
League Cup winners: 1992, 2006, 2009
European Cup winners: 1968, 1999, 2008
Runners-up: 2009
European Cup-winners Cup winners: 1991
Legend: Eric Cantona, who inspired United to their first Premier League title in 1993.
Terrace hero: Wayne Rooney - Forget his Scouse accent, the striker has won over the fans with his wonder goals and work-rate.
Finest hour: Current manager Sir Alex Ferguson led them to a unique treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup in 1999.
Lowest ebb: Relegated to the old Division Two in 1974 . To make matters worse, former hero Denis Law scored against them - with a back-heel - for MANCHESTER CITY on the day their fate was sealed.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jul 5th, 2009 at 01:23 PM..