Football: Shearer still England's top strike option

ALAN SHEARER is not rated good enough to make Newcastle United's starting line-up but Kevin Keegan gave the England striker his unqualified backing yesterday.

"Whatever is happening there at Newcastle, I'm saying to Alan Shearer `there isn't a single strand of doubt in my mind that you're an England- class player, you're quality, you'll score goals for England and you'll lead England'," the England coach insisted yesterday.

"If you start using statistics, you'll see a fantastic centre-forward who is scoring goals," Keegan added. "I really don't have to defend Alan Shearer. His record stands up to anyone's, anywhere in the world."

Keegan was responding to questions about the alleged rift between Shearer and Ruud Gullit, his manager at Newcastle. Gullit omitted Shearer from his side's starting line-up for the Premiership match against Sunderland on Wednesday.

Newcastle lost 2-1 and Gullit has remained unrepentant over his decision to leave Shearer on the bench until the final stages of the home defeat. "When Alan Shearer went on, we lost. What's the conclusion?" he said.

Keegan insisted that he would be prepared to drop Shearer from the England team if he thought that the player was no longer good enough. "I wouldn't be scared to do it if I thought it was right," Keegan said. "But everyone knows what I think of Alan Shearer. Nothing I have seen in the last week or 10 days has changed that.

"He'll have had times in his life when things have gone better for him both personally and in the teams he's played in. But in the four games I've been in charge for, in my opinion - and that's what counts if you're picking the team as England manager - he's been outstanding and he has scored twice.

"I still see the qualities whereas I think a lot of people out there are ignoring them."

Those views, however, did not stop Keegan feeling "saddened" at the current state of affairs at Newcastle, where the fans have had just one point from a possible 15 to cheer this season. "I had five great years here and nothing happening there gives me any satisfaction at all," Keegan said. "I know where we took the club from and what the potential is, and I know the fans," he added. "Newcastle is something that means something to me so for me to talk about it would be wrong. I've never got involved in it."

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