Sir Bobby Robson last night broke his silence on Newcastle's move for Lee Bowyer and promised that a switch to St. James' Park would rehabilitate the midfielder's career.

The controversial Bowyer is understood to have agreed terms with the Magpies on a five-year contract worth around £40,000-a-week and is scheduled to undergo a medical when he returns from holiday.

Newcastle expect the deal to be rubber-stamped on July 1, although Bowyer's advisors yesterday insisted he is in talks with ''a couple of clubs''.

Arsenal have also been strongly linked with the 26-year-old England international, who is available on a free transfer at the end of his short-term deal with relegated West Ham.

A spokesman for the Skillequal company, which represents Bowyer, said: "At the moment, Lee is in talks with a couple of clubs.''

But Newcastle are confident they will fend off any competition for the former Leeds star.

The fact that Bowyer faces a six-match European ban for stamping on Malaga midfielder Gerardo in a UEFA Cup clash with Leeds last season, has not deterred Robson as he prepares Newcastle for a return to the Champions League.

The Magpies' manager is a long-time admirer of Bowyer and Newcastle, Sunderland and West Ham were the only three clubs to declare an interest when Leeds agreed to let him leave in a cut-price deal in January, rather than lose him for nothing when his contract expired this summer.

Former Sunderland boss Howard Wilkinson made Bowyer the most expensive teenager in British football when he lured him to Leeds from Charlton for £2.7m in July 1996.

Bowyer was on the verge of an England call-up when he and Elland Road teammate Jonathan Woodgate, who joined Newcastle in January in a £9m deal, were charged with grievous bodily harm and affray following a Leeds city-centre attack on an Asian student in January 2000.

Defender Woodgate was cleared of GBH but found guilty of affray and ordered to complete 100 hours' community service, while Bowyer was acquitted of all charges at the end of the trial at Hull Crown Court in December 2001.

As with the signing of Woodgate, Robson acknowledges that Bowyer would bring with him a certain amount of "baggage''.

But he believes Bowyer is another player who can stiffen Newcastle's challenge to Manchester United and Arsenal.

Robson said: "We knew the player would be coming on the market. We had to consider whether that player was right for us, in every way, but we are where we are.

"We're trying to improve the team, we're trying to make an indentation into Manchester United and Arsenal.

"That will take patience, time and investment, but Bowyer's ability is not in question.

"We have a multi-national squad and we're very proud of that. We won't do anything to jeopardise it.

"We know Lee has a bit of baggage and that he needs some assistance, but we're prepared to give it to him. At the same time, he has to recognise that he needs to look after himself. It's a two-way street."

Mark Jensen, editor of Newcastle fanzine The Mag, admitted that a move for Bowyer could split opinion among supporters.

"There's certainly been a mixed reaction,'' he said. "We all know what he can do on the pitch and two years ago, he was seen as one of the best attacking midfielders in the country.

"Obviously he's had a bit of a dip, maybe through a combination of injuries and what happened off the pitch. The question on the pitch is: Can Bowyer get back to what he was? I think he probably can.

"You also have to look at Bobby Robson's track record with signings. If he's weighed up the pros and cons and thinks it's right for Newcastle, then you have to support him.''

l Newcastle left-back Olivier Bernard has denied making comments in a Sunday tabloid which were critical of the St. James' hierarchy.

Bernard was quoted as saying that Newcastle were being run by "too many businessmen and not enough people passionate about football''. But the Frenchman insisted: "I did not say anything like that. I respect our chairman Freddy Shepherd because he gives Sir Bobby Robson the funds to buy quality players.'