Football: Mick the missile has found his range: The scouse scallywag with an eye for pints, punts and points has settled in style at his new home. Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
MICK QUINN has been talking this week of playing for England, and why not? There would be a certain symmetry about replacing Gary Lineker, lost to Japan, with the heavyweight they call 'Sumo'.

No chance at 30? Probably not, but this cross between George Foreman and Bobby Smith has already performed one miracle this season in getting all of us, regardless of allegiance, interested in Coventry City's results.

The most common question every Saturday night, after 'How did United get on?', is now: 'Did Quinn score again?' The answer is usually in the affirmative, 13 goals in 11 League games making this scouse scallywag the bargain of the season at pounds 250,000.

Two more in Coventry's 5-2 demolition of Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night had that most imaginative of managers, Bobby Gould, likening him to a Polaris submarine. 'When the ball lands in the opposition area, suddenly there's a missile being fired. People don't realise he is there until it's too late. He's a silent killer.'

Not silent enough for some tastes, it seems. Newcastle sold him, on the cheap, after Kevin Keegan had taken umbrage at some typically forthright criticisms of his 'shambolic' management.

Quinn had scored five goals in seven games when he left St James' Park in November, and Keegan, who should know a thing or two about such things, had hailed him as 'the best finisher in football'.

For all that, the two men were chalk and cheese - one squeaky clean, the other a likeable rogue who loves a pint and a punt - and they fell out badly when 'the best finisher in football' finished a poor 14th on the teamsheet for a 4-1 defeat at Derby last April.

Strong words were spoken, which saw Quinn transfer-listed and fined two weeks' wages for 'insulting remarks', and more of the same when the fans' favourite was confined to the bench this season rendered the breakdown irretrievable.

A parting salvo from maddened Mick - 'What really brassed me off about Keegan was that he was never man enough to look me in the eyes and admit he didn't fancy me as a player' - saw KK respond in kind: 'He's just another Judas', and if their mutual mate, Mick Channon, can patch this one up, they should have him on the first plane to Sarajevo.

Quinn might have gone to Aston Villa in September, but Ron Atkinson's approach was rejected because Newcastle lacked cover for David Kelly and Gavin Peacock, and he had to wait until 21 November for the move he wanted to the Premier League.

Transfer-listed (again) on a Wednesday evening, he had Gould on the phone the following morning, inviting him down to Highfield Road for a month on loan. Rarely can a trial, which is how both sides saw it, have been so conclusive.

Quinn scored twice on his debut, against Manchester City, doubled up again at Southampton's expense, and six goals in his first four games persuaded Coventry to stump up that chicken-feed pounds 250,000 before the month was up, for fear of half the League gazumping them.

What he calls his 'lean spell' (three matches without scoring) was to follow, but normal service was soon resumed, and rattling them in two by two against Liverpool, Villa and Blackburn made 'Noah' a more appropriate sobriquet than the terrace taunt 'Sumo'.

Was he suprised by his success? Not in the slightest. 'I've got most of my goals (221 in 461 League appearances) in the old Second Division, but I've never doubted my ability to score at top level - and I mean the very highest level.' Nudge, nudge, Graham Taylor.

Among Premier League marksmen only Alan Shearer, with 22, has more than Quinn's 18 this season, and his objective is to claim a third golden boot award, to go with the two he won as leading scorer in the Second Division.

His record just below top level is second to none, but it has taken him until his 31st year to establish himself among the elite. Why?

His other record - a short, sharp shock at Her Majesty's pleasure for driving offences - has not helped. Nor, it is safe to assume, has his obsession with the gee-gees. The overall impression, and one he tends to cultivate rather than contradict, is of a bit of a 'character'. Mick, the man's man.

'I went to prison the season we got promoted at Portsmouth (1986- 87), and was still their top scorer with 28 goals,' he says. 'I suppose it might have put a few clubs off, because some are very strict on things like that, but I don't think it should have outweighed the goals I've always scored.'

And the horses? At 5ft 9in and 13 1/2st Quinn is hardly built for speed, but those in the know say he is quicker over five furlongs than some of his four-legged fancies.

The signing-on fee from Coventry undoubtedly came in handy for a punter who admits his to be the most expensive of hobbies.

'You never make money out of racing, but going to the races gets you away from football, which is a good thing once in a while. You can switch off and have a good social day out. I've got a half-share in a horse called Va Utu with Mick Channon, and we've also been running a race club and a tipping service over the phone. We've taken it on the chin a few times, but at least we've had a go.'

John Aldridge's longevity has convinced him that he has a good few years left, but when the time comes to swap the shooting boots for a shooting stick, Quinn plans to devote his full attention to racing, possibly as a breeder.

For the time being, to the discomfort of defenders everywhere, he intends to concentrate on doing what he does best.

'Scoring goals is a gift, an art form,' he says. 'Bob Latchford was my hero when he was at Everton, but I have great admiration for all the real goalscorers - Keegan, Dalglish, Rush, Aldridge - because it is such a precious, specialised thing. You get your strikers who chip in with 10 to 20 goals a season, and then there are your 20-plus men, who are the real thing. There aren't too many of them about, and that's why they go for extortionate prices. Unfortunately, I've missed out on the extortion, for some reason.

'To be a natural goalscorer is a gift you are born with, it's not something you can be taught. You have your coaches over the years, and they can help you with the timing of your runs, but really it's all about instinct. The ability to be in the right place at the right time.

'It's a split-second thing. You don't even think about it. If you take the time to think, you'll usually miss. Sometimes you walk away and think: Christ, how did I do that? It all happens so quick. Suddenly the ball is in the back of the net and you're not sure why.

'That instinctive reaction is what separates the natural goalscorer - the 25 goals a season men who get goals for fun - from the others who may score some spectacular goals from outside the box, but will always end up with 15 to 20.'

Single-minded to the point of bloody-mindedness, Quinn is often accused of being preoccupied with his primary function to the detriment of his game as a whole.

Joe Royle, who had him at Oldham, says: 'He doesn't feel you have to be involved all the time to be effective. Sometimes he can't head the ball unless there's the chance of a goal, and then he heads the ball rather well. Sometimes he can look slow, but when the chance of a goal is there, he's lightning quick.'

Quinn will accept criticism of his team play, but only up to a point. 'It's a little unfair to say I'm not bothered about my contribution outside the box. One thing I have definitely worked on, and improved, is my touch and control.

'Ossie Ardiles had a lot to do with that when he came to Newcastle. His football was all touch, touch, touch. I improved under him, and I'm still improving.'

Having had little but the goalscorer's gift in common with Keegan, he was delighted to recognise in Gould a kindred spirit. The Coventry manager was not averse to a move during his playing career (he had 10 clubs), was a noted 'socialiser', and was never backward in coming forward when it came to expressing his opinion.

'The gaffer was a bit of a lad himself, I believe,' Quinn said, chuckling. 'Keegan was more the model pro. I relate to 'Gouldy'. I can understand where he's coming from, and what he's getting at. Its a great help that he can understand how I'm feeling and what I do.

'The other day, against Oldham, we were 3-0 up after 20 minutes and I was getting a bit frustrated because I hadn't scored. When we came in at half-time he said: 'Don't sulk, just because you haven't got one'. I had to laugh. He was right. I was sulking. Not to the point where I was walking around, moping, but he could tell.

'The point is, he knew what I was feeling because he'd been there himself. It's nice to play for a manager who really understands you like that.'

Quinn is similarly appreciative of the help he is receiving on the pitch. 'We've got Peter Ndlovu and John Williams, who've both got lightning pace, and Kevin Gallacher, who is quick and clever as well. We play with two wingers which opens it up, and they're creating no end of chances for me.

'It's just as well that they're quick, because I wouldn't say I was the fastest. Paceless, I call myself.'

Priceless is more like it, at a time when his old club are offering pounds 3m for a striker (Les Ferdinand) with far fewer goals.

(Photograph omitted)