THE planned retirement of Newcastle United skipper Alan Shearer was again thrown into doubt last night with Graeme Souness admitting he remained 'really hopeful' he would still be working with the 34-year-old next season, writes Adam Murray.

The Newcastle boss also told fans on a radio phone-in that Michael Owen would be his number one choice to replace the Magpies legend, and a summer move for the Real Madrid striker appears likely.

"Without giving too much away I am really really hopeful and reasonably confident he'll (Shearer) be with us next season," said Souness, who is keen to see Shearer (187 goals) overhaul Jackie Milburn's 200 record total.

"I want to work with him for another year and I think it would be an absolute crime if he didn't get Jackie Milburn's record and win something. I want him with me.

"If he stays, which is the way I'm thinking now, I'm thinking who will be his partner next season."

Owen has become increasingly frustrated at his lack of opportunities in the starting XI at the Bernabeu, and speaking about the England forward Souness said: "He's a great centre forward and he still young at 25.

"I don't think we'll be the only one's monitoring his situation. I think Michael Owen comes in to the category of players that would excite the football fans here.

"I think we are three, four or five players away from challenging for the top honours every season."

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