Football: Time-scale threat to Shearer's sharpness

Alan Shearer will have just over a month of top-level football for Newcastle United in which to prove to Glenn Hoddle that he is ready to lead England's World Cup challenge.

Alan Nixon delivers the depressing news.

It was not the early Christmas present England wanted. Alan Shearer, striker supreme in the finals of Euro '96 and with a track record of recovering quicker than most from even the most severe injury, was not saying the words the country wanted to hear.

The injured England captain revealed last night that he does not expect to return to Premier League action until March, which leaves him around seven or eight club matches to find his shooting boots.

Shearer is back in training after breaking his ankle and damaging ligaments in a pre-season friendly, but he feels he will not be ready for a return to serious action for three more months.

"I'm running in straight lines, but I'm still not able to do any twisting or turning," he said. "The pins have come out of the ankle and it is just a matter of mending in time. But I've not changed my mind. It's looking like March before I will play."

That time-scale is cutting things fine for Shearer to lead the line as England go for glory in France next June. The domestic programme finishes early in May, giving him just a handful of matches for Newcastle to help his club and boost his own chances of playing for England in the world's greatest football tournament.

Wether or not Shearer goes to France depends on the England coach, Glenn Hoddle. "Obviously I will tell him how I feel and I'll be honest about it," Shearer said.

George Graham yesterday signed a pounds 1m-a-year, long-term contract to manage Leeds then declared their title aspirations this season to be "ridiculous".

The agreement puts the 53-year-old Graham in the same pay bracket as Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish at Newcastle and Blackburn's Roy Hodgson.

Graham, who has singled out a place in next season's Uefa Cup as his initial aim, said: "I'm not a dreamer, I'm a realist. I'm not kidding anybody. The championship? Not yet, no. It's ridiculous. Leeds are not ready for that yet."

Also signing a contract yesterday was Mick McCarthy, adding two more years to his tenure as the Republic of Ireland manager. His target now is to qualify the Republic for the 2000 European Championship finals in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Wimbledon have been offered the chance of new home at Gatwick Airport. The proposal is to house the Premiership club, who presently share with Crystal Palace, on land just off the M23. The move comes in the wake of strong opposition to the idea of the Dons relocating to Dublin.

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