Michael Owen's decision to abandon the Bernabeu and return to the Premier League with Newcastle United was effectively made last week after a telephone call to England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
The 2001 European Footballer of the Year wanted assurances from the Swede that his status as England's first-choice striker approaching World Cup year was not in doubt after a frustrating first season at Real Madrid. With the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany less than a year away, Owen's footballing future had reached a crossroads.
Stay and fight for a place at Real, where he had been pushed even further down the pecking order with the arrival of Brazilians Robinho and Julio Baptista, or seek a return to his homeland and the lure of regular first-team football.
Newcastle were the first to offer Owen a return ticket, agreeing a club record fee of over 15 million pounds ($27.11 million) with Real, but the Chester-born forward appeared set on a return to Liverpool, where he scored 158 goals in 297 matches before joining Real. Conflicting smoke signals emanating from Anfield suggested that, despite no official bid and protestations from coach Rafa Benitez that he did not need to sign another striker, backroom wheels were beginning to turn, Reuters reports.