Football: Keegan reprimes his striker

Euro 2000: Shearer first option as former understudy shines and principality enlist surprise principal

IT IS as if the umbilical cord was never completely severed between Mother Newcastle and and her beloved managerial son. As hard as he attempts to demote the question to a side issue, Kevin Keegan cannot avoid the fact that the pair remain inextricably linked. "Newcastle mattered greatly for five years, and I've still got a bond with the supporters," he said on Thursday after announcing his latest England squad. "But Newcastle, as something I've worried about, died at whatever day it was at about five o'clock when a guy from the City said 'sign that two-year contract, or go...'."

If only it were that simple. When Keegan made the latter choice on that 8 January 1997, he unwittingly triggered a sequence of circumstances that affect the club to this day. What he can never have imagined is that some two and a half years on the turmoil afflicting Newcastle would impinge on his role as England coach.

The "soap opera" at Newcastle, as he referred to it, is not directly of his making. It is down to the Board and Ruud Gullit; and, some would suggest, Alan Shearer. But when Keegan's captain and the first name he scribbles on the team sheet is embroiled as a central character in the intrigue at St James' Park, when that man is regarded as a natural successor to Gullit, then its effect on the morale of the entire England squad cannot be understated.

"Football is full of surprises," Keegan said when naming the 37-year- old Stuart Pearce, two years' retired from international football - and, coincidentally, a Gullit write-off. But there was never going to be a similar intake of breath when it came to Shearer's name, despite his demotion to the bench against Sunderland, Gullit's last match in charge. Keegan's belief in the player he lavished pounds 15m on is unconditional, and may be rewarded through England's resurrection from third place in Group Five to Euro 2000 qualification; it may also be misplaced.

Keegan implored us to scrutinise Shearer's statistics when considering his continued potency as a goalscorer. But while the England coach is almost evangelistic in his belief, the evidence hardly supports his case. Last season in 30 club appearances, he scored eight goals from open play; in nine England games, he netted twice.

From being England's superman, which he certainly approached at Blackburn, he has perhaps got a touch too close to the kryptonite. His powers are demonstrably on the wane and a tendency to a more robust approach is simply because his pace has been restricted by major surgery.

Notwithstanding that, Keegan would retain him anyway because of what he describes as his "passion and hunger". Keegan regards his sheer presence as inspirational. Unpalatable though it may appear, in many quarters that quality, too, is being questioned; not least presumably among those players who would usurp his crown. Certainly, his frequently curmudgeonly manner does nothing to enhance his questionable ambassadorial credentials, and even Keegan concedes: "When he sits down with you, he's the most honest person you could meet. When in front of the press, like a lot of people, he will come out with his pads on and his bat to fend off questions."

The implication is that his public demeanour is something Shearer will have to brush up on should he ever enter management, which may be just around the corner rather than on the far horizon the way developments are unfolding at St James' Park. For Keegan, there is merely sadness. "I thought Kenny [Dalglish] was a great appointment. It didn't work. I thought that Ruud Gullit was a great appointment. Who's to know about the future?" he said. "The greatest thing about the club is and always will be the supporters, not the Sir John Halls and the Ruud Gullits, even the Alan Shearers. They will all go, but the black and white shirts will keep on coming."

However, the England coach sees the humorous side when it is suggested that being involved in some managerial role, sooner rather than later, could jeopardise Shearer's England career. "It might worry me as England manager if he does well," said Keegan, who added in a more subdued tone. "From what I've read, it seems that it has been said to Alan, 'One day, you'll probably manage this club.' I think that Alan's said that one day he would like to, but it's a long way away. At the moment, he's still got an awful lot of football in him."

Keegan added: "Alan Shearer is a special person, so don't underestimate him. I see him as being a manager. But you can be manager the rest of your life. My advice to him would be, just stick that on the back-burner. There's nothing beats playing."

Of course, a bagful of goals against Luxembourg next Saturday at Wembley may ease many of those doubts regarding the captain, though that result - bar an unlikely draw or unthinkable defeat - will be largely irrelevant. Poland in Warsaw the following Wednesday is the crucial contest, and there will be no excuses then for Keegan. No Sol Campbell or Graeme Le Saux, but otherwise, allowing for some lack in match fitness in the likes of Michael Owen and Tony Adams, he has had the pick of England's elite.

His decision to name Chris Sutton and Robbie Fowler ahead of Andy Cole, Dion Dublin and Emile Heskey - the latter pair in particularly fine fettle - will either be vindicated, or as Keegan accepts: "I know I'm going to get the flak."

Cole's omission is not altogether surprising, based on a largely insipid performance against Sweden. But to be spurned by not one, but now two England coaches, will test his forbearance to the limit. Keegan admits he is not sure what response he will receive. "You can spend three years with him like I did at Newcastle and, I've got to be honest with you, you never really get to know Andy Cole," he said. "He's had a rejection before at Arsenal. If he sees this as rejection, which he's bound to do, he's got the character to bounce back.

"In his first game for me, against Poland, I thought he did terrific, but you have to go on from that. You might say, 'Did Alan Shearer play any better?' But the answer is, Alan Shearer has proved it at this level. It sounds a bit cruel, but it's like when young kids come into a League side, they've got to do even better than seasoned pros to keep their place. I want to look at other options which are more interesting for me."

Owen appears the most likely to partner Shearer against Luxembourg, possibly with a third forward, like Teddy Sheringham, dropping off behind them. But if he does not present himself match-fit, the combination of the captain and Sutton, in a re-run of the old Blackburn SAS, could be an intriguing one.

Keegan has always maintained that he would be "less interested in players who could take it or leave playing for England", which would appear to count against Sutton. But he declared: "It's a fresh page. I've picked Chris because he gives me an option. How many players like Chris Sutton are there in this country? He's pretty unique, the way he plays."

A partnership with Shearer, he agreed, "could be a definite advantage". As Gullit may have found, also, had he possessed the humility to do so and understood the power of the Geordie idol on Tyneside. By the time Newcastle visit Stamford Bridge, if not this week, he may have learnt a harsh lesson.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game