Football: Shearer still follows the script

European Championship: After collecting 50 caps, the England captain believes he no longer has anything to prove
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The Independent Online
IT IS in the nature of sport for its practitioners to be praised and dismissed on the flimsiest of impressions. The best survive the tests, the others fade away with just a clutch of hasty headlines to remind themselves that they were once a contender.

Seven years ago, on a February night at Wembley, a young striker called Alan Shearer found his name in lights after scoring on his international debut against France. A great future was written for him.

The script appears to have been followed. A further 22 England goals, a championship medal, a small fortune and a world-record transfer later, he today wins his 50th cap.

It has not, however, been plain sailing. Two serious injuries and several minor ones have pock-marked his career and his decision to prefer Newcastle to Manchester United looks increasingly ill-advised. Thus, one might suggest, the way he appears to understand Kipling's homily on the twin imposters of triumph and disaster and, to the outside eye, treat both with equanimity.

Yet it is not the injuries that provoked his fatalism - "I never look too far ahead, you never know what will happen in football," he said yesterday - he was like this long before. At international level he learned very quickly that futures are unpredictable.

He was one of three international debutants that night and, though he scored a goal, he was not the one who created the most favourable impression. England: The Complete Post-War Record reports first that Rob Jones "gave a cultured performance... a most pleasing display" and suggested he had solved the problem position of right-back. Jones won the last of his eight caps four years ago and has since also faded from view at Liverpool. Now, at 27, he is trying to resurrect his career, probably at West Ham.

Just as new faces are hailed prematurely, established ones are written off precipitously. So it is with Shearer who has been judged to be past his best more often than the contents of the bargain bin at Tescos. Now, after a year without an international goal from open play (he has scored from two penalties and a free-kick), the obituaries are being prepared again. The suggestion is that he has been under the surgeon's knife once too often.

Though it beats Mark Bosnich's wedding preparations, it is not quite the way to approach his 50th cap. Shearer, as ever, is unperturbed. "There is always pressure on me, probably more so now I'm captain, but I don't have to prove anything to anybody," he said yesterday. "All I have to do is prove to myself I give 100 per cent every time I go out. I've scored 24 goals this season - I don't think I could have done any more."

He did not mention that a significant number of those have come from the penalty spot. Kevin Keegan did not mention this either. He preferred to dwell on the positives he drew from Shearer's performance in England's last match, in Hungary.

"I think he proved to any doubters what it meant to him to play for England," said the coach. "It would have been easy to pull out but he turned up, led the line, and scored a goal. That match was the sign for me that he was back to full fitness."

So write him off at your peril, as the other debutant in February 1992, Martin Keown, has shown, there is a resilience about some players which keeps them at the top. As Keegan added of Shearer: "You can knock him, but you won't knock him down."

Today Shearer hopes to repay that faith, it would take a bold man to back against him.

SHEARER & CO: THE PARTNERS

Partnership Matches Mins AS Goals Rate Eng goals Rate

Shearer/Sheringham 24 1484 13(1p) 74min 27 55

Shearer/Owen 11 674 3(2p) 225 10 67

Shearer/Wright 8 401 1 401 6 67

Shearer/Beardsley 6 380 1 380 6 63

Shearer/Barmby 5 315 1 315 6 52

Shearer/Lineker 3 198 0 - 2 99

Shearer/Ferdinand 3 184 2 92 3 66

Shearer/Cole 2 115 0 - 3 38

Shearer/Clough 1 90 0 - 0 -

Shearer/Collymore 2 88 0 - 1 88

Shearer/Phillips 1 82 1(1p) 82 1 82

Shearer/Le Tissier 2 71 0 -0 - -

Shearer/Merson 1 69 0 -0 - -

Shearer/Hirst 1 45 1 45 1 45

Shearer/Dublin 1 24 0 - - -

Shearer/Fowler 1 12 0 - 0 -

Shearer/Heskey 1 8 0 - 0 -

ENGLAND'S SAS

(Shearer and Sheringham's record together)

Date Opponents Score Min AS goals TS goals

Sept 95 United States 2-0 81 2 -

Oct 95 Romania 1-1 19 - -

June 95 Japan 2-1 14 - -

June 95 Sweden 3-3 90 - 1

June 95 Brazil 1-3 78 -

Oct 95 Norway 0-0 25 - -

Nov 95 Switzerland 3-1 90 - 1

May 96 Hungary 3-0 14 - -

June 96 Switzerland 1-1 67 1 1

June 96 Scotland 2-0 90 1 -

June 96 Netherlands 4-1 90 2 2

June 96 Spain 0-0 108 - -

June 96 Germany 1-1 120 1 -

April 97 Georgia 2-0 90 1 1

May 97 Poland 2-0 90 1 1

June 97 France 1-0 11 1 -

June 97 Brazil 0-1 74 - -

March 98 Switzerland 1-1 21 - -

April 98 Portugal 3-0 77 2 1

May 98 S Arabia 0-0 60 - -

June 98 Tunisia 2-0 84 1 -

June 98 Romania 1-2 73 - -

Sept 98 Sweden 1-2 4 - -

Oct 98 Bulgaria 0-0 14 - -

Shearer's first England team: C Woods; R Jones, S Pearce, M Keown, D Walker, M Wright; N Webb, G Thomas, N Clough; A Shearer, D Hirst (G Lineker, h/t)

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