Football: Shearer risks echo of '94

Glenn Moore on an injury that threatens England's World Cup qualificati on hopes
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The Independent Online
The eager anticipation of a new season lost some of its gloss this weekend. As Alan Shearer crumpled at Goodison Park the mind went back four years, to Rotterdam and an England side bereft of Shearer failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

Now it appears that England will again be missing their inspirational centre-forward at the climax of a qualifying campaign. His ankle injury, sustained so innocuously on Saturday, could keep him out of both October's daunting fixture with Italy in Rome and any subsequent play-off the following month. He had an operation to repair the ligaments in Newcastle yesterday.

Even if he makes a quicker recovery than expected, he is unlikely to be fully fit, which could result in a similarly laboured display as his injury-affected one against Italy in February.

The news will have soured Glenn Hoddle's family holiday in Spain. During last month's Tournoi de France he spoke with relish of unleashing a fully fit Shearer on the Italians.

Hoddle does have options, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright are all excellent strikers, each could work well with either Teddy Sheringham or Paul Scholes. None, however, carry the menace of Shearer. Opponents fear him, team-mates are lifted by his presence. His record of 11 goals in 12 internationals over the last year, most against quality opposition, underlines his potency.

Kenny Dalglish has even more reason to be downcast. As a friend he will be saddened for Shearer, as a manager he will be concerned for his team. How cruelly ironic that the injury should happen within hours of agreeing to sell Les Ferdinand to Tottenham, a deal which was concluded yesterday.

Dalglish may now be forced to buy another striker. However, this is a bad time to enter the transfer market. Clubs are always slightly desperate buyers at this stage of pre-season, but Newcastle have an extra need for haste - they have to confirm their Champions' League squad by Friday.

Most of the best players are also settled elsewhere by now. One who is not, of course, is Fabrizio Ravanelli - but would Middlesbrough dare sell him to Newcastle? Would Dalglish want him? Would the Plc accept his pay demands?

The influence of the City is the new dimension to the injury. Newcastle's shares will almost certainly fall sharply in value. So may others, for there can be no more graphic illustration of the volatile nature of football shares than an incident like this.

It is also a reminder of fragility of a footballer's career. They may be well-paid, too well-paid most people would say, but, as players like Paul Elliott and Steve Coppell found, it can all be taken away in an instant.

Shearer knows this. This is his second serious injury and his fourth operation in a year. One wonders if he is asking too much of his body - and if the game is asking too much of its players. The injury has been described as freak, but it seems uncannily similar to Jamie Redknapp's against South Africa in May.

It is not so much the weight of fixtures, there were many more in the early Seventies, it is the speed of the game. The physical demands in terms of both stamina and speed, the twisting and turning, the heavy tackles, all put an enormous strain on the body.

It is often said that athletes are among the least healthy people around, their bodies are kept so finely tuned and so close to the limits, any passing bug knocks them over. It may be that footballers are becoming equally vulnerable with their joints and muscles pushed to breaking point.

Even the improvement in medical science has a negative side. Players may be able to overcome injuries which would once have finished them - as Shearer has - but as they are also able to recover more quickly from less serious injuries their bodies are denied the rest periods which were once enforced.

Meanwhile, the game gets ever quicker with the latest rule changes, further restricting back-passes and goalkeepers' possession, speeding it up again.

In a bizarre touch this week I received a video, "Umbro conditioning for football with Alan Shearer - the total fitness programme''. Then came the Umbro Cup and, sadly for Shearer, Newcastle and England, his body has once again rebelled. His progress towards recovery will be keenly followed in Newcastle, London and beyond.

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