Ferdinand's form threatens Shearer

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The Independent Online
The land of lire and lambrusco must seem more attractive to Alan Shearer than ever. No sooner does he pledge his future to Blackburn Rovers than the champions' defence of their title collapses and their European campaign becomes the worst since the British Expeditionary Force had to be rescued from the beach at Dunkirk. Now even his previously unchallenged status as England's No 9 is under threat.

That is the obvious conclusion to be drawn from Les Ferdinand's recall to the England squad for next week's friendly in Norway. Significantly, it is one which Terry Venables did nothing to dismiss when he revealed his latest 20-man squad yesterday.

The goalless draw with Colombia last month was Shearer's seventh blank international on the trot. The last time he scored was in September 1994 - against the undemanding United States' defence. Since then England have managed eight goals in as many games - including the abandoned Dublin match.

In most of those matches Shearer has played as a lone striker ahead of someone like Peter Beardsley. It is a role Ferdinand fills, with more apparent comfort, for Newcastle. Shearer plays in a more conventional striking partnership at club level. "I may have to look at someone else in that position," Venables said. "I review everybody after every game and he [Shearer] is no different. He is not a special case."

Venables also brought in Ferdinand's Newcastle team-mate, John Beresford, along with a genuine Geordie, Steve Stone of Nottingham Forest. Gareth Southgate, of Aston Villa, was another new face but there was still no place for Matt Le Tissier or Paul Ince.

Venables was quick to reassure Ince that he was not being omitted because of his refusal to join in the summer's Umbro Cup. Instead it was to give him more time to settle in Italy, where his club, Internazionale, have already sacked their coach. "I've seen two of his games and read some of his comments where he says he is struggling to settle down, so I thought I would give him more time," Venables said.

However, the England coach was less keen to discuss Le Tissier, who has not been involved since his 27-minute appearance in Dublin in February. "It is up to him to get himself in the squad," Venables said.

Le Tissier was robbed of a final chance to do so because of the squad's early timing. Venables normally makes his announcement on Tuesday, which would have given him the chance to watch Le Tissier play last night. However, Venables was in court yesterday afternoon for a libel case brought against him by Tony Berry, a director of Tottenham. Though the case was settled there was the danger that it would drag on to today.

In truth, whatever Le Tissier did last night it was unlikely to sway Venables. Of more concern was the prospect of the case running through the week - and the possibility of Venables being called when he was supposed to be taking training.

That will now not happen and he will be able to show Beresford, Southgate and Stone what he expects from England players. The first two are ball- playing defenders of the type Venables is keen to introduce into the side. Beresford's inclusion is due to Graeme Le Saux's injury, but Southgate is in ahead of Neil Ruddock, Colin Cooper, David Unsworth and Ugo Ehiogu.

Unlike them he has midfield experience - he played there for Crystal Palace last season - and can thus bring the ball out of defence, or pick up a deep-lying opponent, in the continental fashion.

Stone, despite his lack of hair, is only 24 but has already suffered a broken leg three times. A busy and thoughtful right-sided midfielder, he has a hard edge - Alex Ferguson describes him as "a tough wee bugger".

To include him, Venables dropped David Batty while John Barnes is missing because of a "domestic problem". John Salako is also dropped while David Platt and Darren Anderton are injured and Stan Collymore not match-fit. Tim Flowers has been sidelined for a month, after having an operation on his left elbow to remove gristle that has been restricting his movement for most of the season.

n Venables has agreed to allow Paul Gascoigne to miss England's training sessions on Friday and Saturday, so that he will be fresh for Rangers' game at Aberdeen.

More football, page 23

ENGLAND SQUAD

INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY v Norway (Oslo, 11 October): Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Tottenham); G Neville (Man Utd), R Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Man Utd), Howey (Newcastle), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Beresford (Newcastle); Gascoigne (Rangers), McManaman (Liverpool), Redknapp (Liverpool), Lee (Newcastle), Southgate (Aston Villa), Stone (Nottingham Forest), Wise (Chelsea); Barmby (Middlesbrough), Shearer (Blackburn), Sheringham (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Newcastle).

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