Shearer inspired by Newcastle's treasure hunt

Click to follow

Retirement may be a temporary condition for boxers and crooners but once footballers leave the dressing room, their absence is a permanent one. Unless they enter management, a half-life of TV punditry awaits with nothing to do between appearances but play golf and polish their medals.

It was this realisation that persuaded Alan Shearer to prolong his career, that and the sweet whisperings of Graeme Souness, the Newcastle United manager, Freddy Shepherd, the club chairman, and the Toon Army. The fact that he only has one medal to polish was also a significant factor.

The 34-year-old yesterday confirmed he would continue to fill Newcastle's No 9 shirt for one more season and, in an indication of his possible long-term future, would combine the role with a coaching position at St James' Park.

Shearer now seems certain to pass Jackie Milburn's club record tally of 200 goals - he is currently nine adrift. More significantly his chances of leading Newcastle to their first silverware since 1969 have been hugely enhanced.

"I realise what a great man Jackie Milburn was to this football club, and the area, but I stayed on because I think the club is moving in the right direction," he said, "not because I want to break the record. I might do that but it is not the reason I am staying on.

"I am staying on because I believe we can win things, I've seen enough in the last few months to suggest I can do that. It is a big time for the football club and everyone has been delighted with what has happened this season.

"I believe - and more importantly the manager believes, that I can still play a big part. I am still scoring goals, which is what forwards are judged on. I have 18 this season and will hopefully get a few more."

Shearer scored 28 goals last season but he said he felt he had contributed more to the team this time. He was not alone, with Souness constantly chipping away at his resolve.

The relationship between Shearer and Sir Bobby Robson, once so warm, had cooled by the end of last season, which may have influenced Shearer's decision to make this season his last. But when Souness replaced Robson early in the campaign, the Scot soon decided he wanted Shearer to continue.

Souness said yesterday: "Every day in training, I have tried to get into his ribs and into his head by saying 'this is your football club, the club you love. If you really, really love this club, you have got to stay here and help me for another year at least. You've got to help us be a football club that can challenge the big boys and win things'."

Souness made his appeal public, and the public responded. "Constantly people were into me and telling me to look at the big picture," Shearer said, "so I did. I have to say the response from people - the e-mails, the faxes - has been incredible. I have received literally thousands.

"I thought 'hang on a minute, maybe they have a point'. I sat down with the family and just thought maybe I am coming to this decision a bit too quickly.

"I had a hell of a lot of people to speak to. I spoke to managers, I spoke to coaches, to scouts, to friends, to players who have packed in, and what came back was unanimous: they all said to me they felt I was playing too well to retire, and I thought, 'I just cannot retire just because I have said it'."

Shearer's change of heart means Newcastle can dispense with Patrick Kluivert, who is on a one-year-deal with a two-year-option, and Craig Bellamy, currently on loan to Celtic after falling out with Souness. Reports that it enhances the prospect of Michael Owen joining Newcastle may, though, be premature. The pair rarely dovetailed for England, both wanting to be the focal point of the attack. Shearer is even less mobile now and Owen, disaffected though he may be in Madrid, is unlikely to want to be Shearer's leg-man.

It is nine years since Shearer, having joined Newcastle for a then British record £15m, introduced himself as "just a sheet-metalworker's son" at a public press conference at St James' Park. They have been nine years without a trophy, his one honour being the Premiership title he won in 1994-95 with Blackburn Rovers.

"It's been a long time, without a doubt," he said. "I'm getting old and towards the end of my career, so it is a huge amount of time to go without a trophy. But I would hate people to feel sorry for me because I've been happy, very happy. I'm living the dream here and that far outweighs trophies."

When Shearer joined Newcastle he could not have imagined he would still be waiting to win something. He was at the height of his powers after a successful Euro '96 and turned down Manchester United to sign for his hometown club. It appeared a valid decision. Newcastle may have thrown away a 12-point lead earlier in the year, allowing Manchester United to take the title, but the club still seemed to be flying under Kevin Keegan. Six months later Keegan resigned and though Newcastle reached successive FA Cup finals they lost both and never regained the same momentum. Manchester United went on to win everything.

This divergence in fortunes must nag at Shearer but he has never shown it. If a lack of honours is the price he has paid for being true to his roots, compensation has come in his legendary status on Tyneside. Should he lead Newcastle to that long-awaited trophy, he may regard himself vindicated. Then, maybe only then, he will be able to retire content.

Comments