Football: FA Cup semi-final: Guy Hodgson meets the men at the sharp end in today's Spurs-Arsenal FA Cup semi-final at Wembley: Teddy Sheringham - Spurs

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The Independent Online
LISTEN to Teddy Sheringham and you wonder how he gets into the Tottenham Hotspur team. Nick Barmby, he says, could not be replaced by any other player in the Premier League. Darren Anderton he describes as buzzing. It was probably wise he did not have the opportunity to turn his superlatives on to the other rivals for his striker's position, Gordon Durie and Nayim.

Which sums up the man: quiet, unassuming. He does not blow his own trumpet and the England manager, Graham Taylor, does not appear to be blowing it either as converted centre-halves like Paul Warhurst get international recognition before the softly spoken striker from Highams Park. Underrated is an adjective that could have been made to measure.

At Millwall it was Tony Cascarino who commanded the attention and at Nottingham Forest his brushmarks were often overlooked in the inclination to admire the patterns painted by Nigel Clough, Scot Gemmill and Roy Keane. Now it is Barmby who excites the imagination, so much so that Terry Venables put a temporary block on interviews so concerned was he with the high profile of his young striker.

To evaluate Sheringham you need to talk to his team-mates. 'He's made a huge difference,' Paul Allen says. 'Part of the reason why we struggled at the start of the season was that we were playing with only one striker. Signing Teddy, and Nick Barmby's progress, has given the midfield more options.' Anderton says simply: 'He looks like he is going to score with every chance he gets.'

Other players get the headlines, Sheringham gets the goals, 23 since his pounds 2.1m transfer from Nottingham Forest in August. 'I'm thriving on the service I'm getting,' he says. Just as he thrived at Millwall and Forest, where he averaged nearly a goal every other game.

Sheringham's cause is probably not helped by his outstanding ability in the air. He is noted winning header after header and the tendency is to neglect the contribution he also makes on the ground. He is best described as awkward - difficult for opponents but perhaps not always as comfortable as he could be on the ball. Sheringham puts it where he wants it, but does not always look elegant doing so.

Certainly his opposing manager today, George Graham, was not always impressed by Sheringham's skill. He tried to sell the 5ft 11in striker to Brentford for pounds 5,000 during his spell as manager at The Den and also loaned him to Aldershot and the Swedish club Djurgaarden.

Both men accept the partnership did not coincide with Sheringham's better form, and the player admits there were times when he thought his manager 'hated' him. Now he says being coached by Graham was the best thing that could have happened to him as it converted him into a player who derived his pleasure from scoring rather than getting spectacular goals.

'A chill runs through my body when the ball hits the back of the net,' he said. 'I didn't play as well as I can under George but he was working on it; we'd have got there. He's a good manager who attends to every detail. He's a disciplinarian but sometimes footballers need a bit of discipline.'

It was Graham's successor at The Den, John Docherty, who saw Sheringham blossom from a big, raw youth who frequently attracted boos from the terraces into the greatest scorer in the club's history. In combination with Cascarino, he formed the Millwall air force that took the club to the top of the First Division before injuries and the force of economic gravity began the pull in the opposite direction. Typically, it was Cascarino who attracted the richer clubs first.

Now 27, Sheringham has since outshone his former partner, moving for a total of pounds 4m, first to Forest and then to Tottenham. He reached Wembley twice, in the Rumbelows and Zenith Data Cups, in his only full season with the former but considers today's match his most important. 'Just the fact it's Tottenham v Arsenal makes it a big game but then you add Wembley and what is at stake and it gets bigger and bigger.

'Tottenham beat Arsenal at Wembley two years ago but the similarity ends there. Then Spurs were a team built round stars - Gascoigne, Lineker and Paul Stewart - now it's more of a team effort. We work hard for each other; no one stands out particularly.'

Which could be a description of his own career. Asked what had gone wrong with Nottingam Forest this season, Brian Clough replied: 'I should have kept Edward Sheringham.'

Sometimes you are missed only when you are gone.

(Photograph omitted)