Football: Shearer still driven by the lure of success

Adam Szreter hears the England captain explain why his confidence remains high despite recent troubles
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FOR ALAN SHEARER, the opportunity to lead his country once again - against Bulgaria at Wembley on Saturday - will be welcome in more ways than one. It is a chance for England to put behind them last month's disappointment in Stockholm and for Shearer in particular, these 10 days with the national team should provide the perfect tonic to his current travails with his beloved Newcastle United.

Beaten 3-0 at Arsenal on Sunday, it is taking time for the Gullit effect to come into play at St James' Park. Three wins in a row prior to the Highbury game might not sound too bad, but the vanquished sides were Southampton, Coventry and Nottingham Forest - the current bottom three in the Premiership - and rumours of Shearer's discontent have remained rife ever since the Dutchman arrived to replace Shearer's friend, Kenny Dalglish, at the helm. The two personalities involved seemed unlikely to hit it off, although Shearer has yet to experience the frustrations of the squad system that Gullit favoured in his first managerial post at Chelsea.

But yesterday, after linking up with the England squad for training at Bisham Abbey, Shearer was evidently still smarting from Sunday's defeat down the road at Highbury. "Sunday's performance wasn't good enough and it just shows how far we've got to go," he said. "Without doubt Arsenal are one of the best, if not the best, and that's what we want to be.

"I don't think we troubled David Seaman once. When I shook hands with him at the end of the game I said 'Well done', then I pulled him back and said, 'I don't know what I said that for because you haven't done anything.' "

In the short term at least there do not seem to be any easy answers to Newcastle's dilemma as the club will have to sell before it can buy the kind of players the Geordie faithful want to see on Tyneside. Shearer, somewhat tersely, deferred to his manager on the question of new signings. "That's what he's getting paid for now," Shearer said of Gullit. "It's his decision. My job is to go out and play football and his job is to manage a football club, and he'll do whatever he sees fit to do. Whether that needs new players, he'll decide. He's certainly experienced enough."

Shearer's own experiences as a player have included championship glory with Blackburn. A league title with his home-town club would undoubtedly mean even more, but it seems Shearer's professionalism will not allow sentiment to cloud his judgement if the time comes to move on.

"I said some time ago I'm happy to stay at Newcastle but I want to win things. The club are very ambitious, they made that clear to me. I want to win things but so does the chairman and so does the manager. I'm certainly not going to set a time limit," he added. "I'm contracted to Newcastle United and that's as far as it goes."

A move to the continent has never appeared to be high on Shearer's list of priorities, but yesterday he admitted: "I've never wanted to go abroad before but you can never say never. It would be foolish of me to say that."

Following a lengthy lay-off through injury last season it took Shearer some time to regain his sharpness but eight goals so far this season would suggest that he is back to his best, Newcastle's form in general notwithstanding.

Shearer though, shrugs it all off. "My own form is irrelevant," he said. "I was player of the month but I had the management team and the players around me to thank for that, because we had a good month and I'm only doing what I get paid for. Just because I've scored a few goals people think that I've been playing well.

"But I've always said it's very unfair to judge a forward on goals alone. I'm reasonably pleased but I'd rather have none and see Newcastle at the top."

England fans, nevertheless, will be happy to see Shearer in such prime form even though doubts persist about the long-term effectiveness of his strike partnership with Michael Owen.

"My confidence is very high but it would be fine whether I had scored or not," he said. "There's a certain buzz in the England camp. We've only been here for one day but it's as if we've not been away.

"We certainly know how big a game it is on Saturday and we must put in an improved performance from the last one. It's vitally important that we win the game and that's what we're aiming to do."