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Football

Madrid unveil new signing Owen


MADRID, Spain -- Michael Owen was officially unveiled as a Real Madrid player on Saturday, a day after completing his $14.7 million move from Liverpool.

The 24-year-old thanked Real president Florentino Perez for giving him "the opportunity to play for the best team in the world" as he was introduced at the Spanish giants' Bernabeu stadium.

The England striker was presented with the No. 11 shirt by Real legend Alfredo di Stefano, now the club's honorary president, after signing a four-year contract.

During the 1950s and 1960s the number was worn by Paco Gento, Real's fleet-footed winger who won six European Cups with the club.

"My dad has been telling me about the great Real Madrid teams of the 1960s," said Owen, a former European footballer of the year.

"He said di Stefano and (Ferenc) Puskas are two strikers who were just unbelievable. He also says (Paco) Gento was the quickest No. 11 he has ever seen and today I'm so proud to be wearing his No. 11 shirt."

Owen faces a fight to earn a place in Real's first team, which already features his England teammate David Beckham, with "galacticos" Ronaldo and Raul and Spanish striker Fernando Morientes also in competition for places.

Massive challenge

"I'm really looking forward to the massive challenge ahead of me," said Owen.

"Raul, Ronaldo and Morientes are three of the best strikers in the world and I'm fully aware of how hard I will have to work if I want to get a chance to play here."

Perez, who has brought Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham to the club since becoming president in 2000, said Owen fitted perfectly into Real Madrid's culture.

"We signed Michael Owen not just because he's one of the youngest players to win the ballon d'or (European footballer of the year award) but also because he really wanted to play for Real Madrid," said Perez.

"He's accepted the challenge to play with some of the great players in the world and to join a legendary team. He fits perfectly into the culture of Real Madrid and is an example both on and off the pitch."

He told Owen: "I'm sure we're all going to enjoy your play and that you'll form part of the brilliant history of our club."

Owen said Liverpool had given him permission to talk to Real just 10 days ago and said he could "hardly believe" how quickly the deal had been completed.

As part of the deal Spanish midfielder Antonio Nunez moved from Real to Liverpool.

With just one year left on his contract, Liverpool had risked losing Owen for nothing at the end of his contract and the striker had been confined to the bench during Rafael Benitez's first few matches in charge of the Anfield club.

Marvelous years

Owen had been with Liverpool since joining them as an 11-year-old.

"I would like to thank everyone there, especially the fans for the marvelous years I spent there," said Owen.

"The club is in excellent hands under Rafael Benitez and I'm sure they will be very successful.

Owen was due to leave Madrid on Saturday to join up with the England squad ahead of their midweek friendly with Ukraine.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said Owen would benefit from the challenge of playing for Real.

"I think it's very good for him," Eriksson told the FA Web site.

"He's been at Liverpool all his life, so he might need a new challenge, and this is a challenge, a big one, so I think it's good for him."


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