Manchester United have refused to be drawn on growing speculation they are about to sign striker Michael Owen.

The 29-year-old, who is out of contract, did not return for pre-season training with Newcastle after his deal with the Magpies ran out in June.

On Thursday bookmakers began to slash their odds on the chances of Owen, who has been linked with Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke and Hull, joining United.

"We don't comment on transfer rumours," a Red Devils spokesman told BBC Sport.

Any deal for Owen would be subject to the striker passing a stringent medical, which could take place as early as Friday, given his frequent injury problems over the last few years.

The former Liverpool forward scored 10 goals in all competitions last season, although an ankle injury and groin operation severely disrupted his season.

His last league goal was on 10 January against West Ham.

Since losing the Champions League final to Barcelona at the end of May, the Premier League holders have sold forward Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80m and failed to persuade striker Carlos Tevez to stay at Old Trafford.

The departure of those two players has left United manager Sir Alex Ferguson with a shortage of strikers, with Frazier Campbell also likely to be sold.

However, Ferguson did bring in winger Antonio Valencia from Wigan on Tuesday.

United were also reportedly keen on Lyon striker Karim Benzema, who is set to join Real, while Bayern Munich forward Franck Ribery has been linked with a move to the Madrid club rather than the English champions.

If Ferguson does capture Owen it would be reminiscent of his willingness to take a chance on players with either difficult reputations, such as Eric Cantona, or players that have suffered serious injury problems like Henrik Larsson.

Even so, the move for Owen represents something of a gamble for Ferguson, given Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce ruled out a move for the striker earlier this week given his injury History.

"I just question the injury scenario," said Allardyce.

"I need a striker that's going to be available for 30 games next season. That's not happened for Michael over the last four years."

After Newcastle were relegated to the Championship, Owen expressed his desire to remain in the Premier League.

The Wasserman Media Group (WMG), the management company that represents him, sent out a brochure to a number of clubs reminding them of the talent that resulted in the striker scoring 158 goals in about 300 games for Liverpool and 40 goals in 89 appearances for England.

No-one was available for comment at the WMG.

Owen was widely reported to be earning more than £100,000-a-week at Newcastle after signing a four-year deal when he moved from Real Madrid in August 2005 for a club record fee of £16m, though his wages are unlikely to be a problem for the Old Trafford club.

However, his time on Tyneside was plagued by injury problems, as he suffered a broken metatarsal bone, knee ligament damage sustained at the 2006 World Cup, as well as a double hernia operation and a thigh problem.

The forward has made 79 appearances for the Magpies and scored 30 goals in four seasons.

If Owen does move to Old Trafford it would revive the former Liverpool striker's hopes of resurrecting his international hopes and taking part in the 2010 World Cup.

Owen has been marginalised by England manager Fabio Capello and has won just one cap under the Italian, as a substitute in the 1-0 friendly defeat by France in Paris on 26 March, 2008.