Stoke City are anxiously waiting to learn whether the Premier League will approve Michael Owen's signing and his inclusion in their 25-man squad list after a frantic day of negotiations at the Britannia Stadium. Owen agreed a one-year deal late on Tuesday afternoon but Stoke still have two hurdles to overcome before they can formally announce that he has signed that deal and is free to play for the club this month.
The Premier League board has to run through a series of checks when any player is signed outside the transfer window, primarily to establish that his contract had expired with his previous club. Although there is no reason to believe that this will be a problem – Owen was released by Manchester United in the summer – the Premier League has not had time to look at Owen's paperwork because of how late the deal was completed.
The additional and far more serious complication is that Premier League squad lists had to be submitted by 4pm on Tuesday and it is unclear whether Stoke met that deadline in time to include Owen's name. Although free agents can be signed outside the deadline, as was the case when Aston Villa brought in Robert Pires two seasons ago, clubs looking to do so need to have spaces in their squad and are prohibited from leaving out senior players to achieve that. Stoke, unlike Villa at that time, have a large number of senior players on their books.
The Owen situation meant that the Premier League on Tuesday night released squad lists for every club with the exception of Stoke. "The Premier League Board is currently considering an application from Stoke City to register a player and, subsequently, their squad list will be confirmed at a later date," the league said.
Stoke remain hopeful that they will get the green light from the Premier League to enable them to announce a signing that will represent quite a coup for them in terms of Owen's profile. He has agreed to move to the Britannia Stadium after accepting a financial package that is essentially a pay-as-you-play deal, whereby he receives a basic wage and significant bonuses, depending on appearances and goals, on top.
Owen tweeted last night: "Delighted to have signed for Stoke subject to Premier League approval. We have been in talks for a while and it was a club I was always keen on." Later he added: "I'm particularly excited at prospect of working under Tony Pulis. He has assembled a great squad that I look forward to joining."
It looked as though the deal had collapsed at one stage because of a failure to reach an agreement over the financial terms. Stoke were adamant that they would not improve their offer, which is similar to the one that they made two years ago to Jonathan Woodgate, who joined them on a heavily incentivised deal because of his poor injury record.
Owen, however, came back to the negotiating table later in the day in a move that will be viewed by some as evidence of the limited options available to a player who was once the most sought-after striker in English football. Though a return to Liverpool had been mooted, Brendan Rodgers had no intention of signing Owen to bolster his threadbare attack and there was little other Premier League interest.
Backed into a corner, Owen appears to have accepted that the Stoke deal was as good as it was going to get for him at this stage of his career.
He has started only 54 league games since the beginning of the 2006-07 campaign and, although that statistic is partly explained by the difficulties he had getting into the Manchester United team during his three years at Old Trafford, injuries have also taken their toll. He has not started a Premier League game since October 2010 and the last time he played in a competitive match was in the Champions League against Otelul Galati last November. It was 12 months ago, against Stoke, when he last made a Premier League appearance.
Stoke, however, are excited about the prospect of Owen joining. Peter Coates, the club's chairman, said: "We sent the forms off and the deadline was a bit of a rush. We are very pleased. Michael is a good guy and a natural goalscorer. He is also a very proud guy. He might feel he's been written off. I think he might have a point to prove.
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