Alan Shearer is not the kind of bloke who needs standing up for, but some of the accusations of conspiracy and politicking levelled at him this week would have made Lord Mandelson of Foy wince. What has Shearer done to deserve this? Nothing, other than the fact that he happens to be a mate of Robert Lee.
Based on some comments from Lee in a fanzine interview that Shearer was ready to take the Newcastle job, the former England captain has been variously accused of being haughty, presumptuous, lazy or orchestrating a devious behind-the-scenes, Karl Rove-style campaign to get the job. The reality is nothing of the sort. Lee says the "Shearer is ready" line roughly every time he is interviewed – he said the same recently when he was a pundit on Sky Sports without any clamour – and he does so without any prompting from Shearer.
The theory that Shearer would need Lee to pave the way for him to take the Newcastle job is fundamentally absurd. If Shearer wanted the job, he would not need a spokesman, he could simply ask for it and reasonably expect the Geordie faithful to carry him shoulder-high into St James' Park. But then why would Shearer want to wreck his career at this basket case of a club?
The banker Keith Harris, who is trying to find a buyer for Newcastle, said yesterday that he did not expect a deal to be done until February. Last time Harris spoke the deal was supposed to be this week. In terms of desirability, the Newcastle manager's job currently rates up there with being Iceland's minister for finance or Liam Byrne's PA. And Shearer does not owe Newcastle the sacrifice of his own management career to try to sort their club out. He scored 206 goals for Newcastle – he has already done more for that club than could ever have been decently asked.
At some point Shearer needs to get on with a career in management and it just so happens that, right now, the ideal place for him to start is pretty much anywhere but St James' Park. The most important concern is not that Shearer becomes Newcastle manager; the most important concern is that he becomes a manager full stop. And the sooner he starts, the better.
There is, of course, no guarantee that a great player will make a great manager, but the greatest shame would be watching Shearer spend the rest of his useful years on a sofa in a BBC studio. He was arguably the most influential English player of his generation and, if English football is serious about establishing a succession of English managers capable of taking over the national team one day, it would be a terrible disappointment if one of the very best was not prepared to take part.
This week, Chelsea play in the Champions League in Bordeaux, whose manager, Laurent Blanc, played against Shearer in the Premier League many times. At 43, Blanc is just five years older than Shearer and, like him, is a figure closely associated with his nation's football team. In 2004 Blanc narrowly missed out on the manager's job at Marseilles, so he went away to study the game across Europe and when the Bordeaux job came up last year he was comfortably the first choice. He certainly did not waste any time worrying if he should hang about for the perfect job.
Blanc's Bordeaux finished second in his first season in charge and, as a result, he will be on the touchline on Wednesday as a coach in the Champions League. Doubtless one day he will be France's manager and, in terms of his development, Blanc's career has been fast-tracked while Shearer, surely one day a potential candidate to be England manager, waits for the right opportunity to present itself.
To borrow a phrase from Lee, Shearer is ready. Contrary to some reports, he has completed his Uefa A and B licence coaching badges, which puts him on a par with Gareth Southgate and ahead of Paul Ince, who are both already in management. But wherever his management career starts, the level of scrutiny Shearer will be placed under will be far greater than those two former England team-mates of his. The scrutiny will be because of the player he once was and because of what he represents.
If you want English managers to succeed, for the England team to be successful one day under an English manager, then there should be a part of you that wishes Shearer well. He represents a whole generation of former English footballers making their way in management. Something to cling to in these mad times when Queen's Park Rangers appoint a Portuguese bloke on the basis he was once a good player, even though his entire management experience concerns coaching an Under-16 team.
If there is a place for Paulo Sousa in English football, there has to be one for Shearer too. Naturally, he will be picky because, unlike famous former England internationals from Sir Bobby Charlton to John Barnes, he will not want to be perceived as a failure in his first management job. A good way to make sure that is not the case is to start somewhere, anywhere, other than his beloved Newcastle.
Wenger desperately wants some help from above
The suits in football have always overstated their own importance but, amid the fallout from Arsenal's slump, you have to ask: where is Arsène Wenger's boardroom ally?
The former vice-chairman David Dein and his bête noire Keith Edelman have both left in the last 19 months while director, and second-largest shareholder, Danny Fiszman (home address: Geneva) remains. Neither Dein nor Edelman were ever slow to remind us of their own key roles but, whatever their respective merits, at least one of them had to be replaced.
In the seven months since Edelman's departure Arsenal have failed to appoint a chief executive, with overtures to the likes of Peter Lawwell (Celtic chief executive) and Adam Crozier (former Football Association chief executive), and now they are making a play for Ivan Gazidis, deputy commissioner of Major League Soccer.
Even the FA has appointed a chief executive to its 2018 World Cup bid campaign in less time. While we wait for the Emirates' papal smoke, Cesc Fabregas frets over his future, Theo Walcott requires a new contract and there is not a transfer deal-maker in sight. Disharmony reigns and Wenger takes all the blame.
Cole and Ferdinand make Dyer choice
Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are investing in a movie – a drearily predictable-sounding gangster flick – but as international footballers surely they understand the point of investing in the top talent? Their leading man is Danny Dyer. They'd be better off asking Kieron Dyer to do it.