He sat on the touchline on Saturday, watching Shola Ameobi taking the penalty, offering a word or two of advice as Glenn Roeder steered Newcastle United closer to a European return. And, in the quiet passages of play, he must have looked across at Bryan Robson patrolling the technical area, looking forlorn as West Bromwich Albion headed towards the Championship. Then, in the evening, Alan Shearer may have turned on Match of the Day and watched Gary Lineker chatting chummily in the studio.
Robson, Lineker, Shearer. Between 1982, when Sir Bobby Robson made his namesake captain, to 2000, when Shearer stepped down from the international game, England were led on to the field by one of this trio more often than not. They each earned more than 50 caps and scored more than 25 international goals.
And when it was all over, Shearer will have pondered over the weekend, Robson went into management, Lineker into television. With his own retirement confirmed, the end hastened by an untimely medial ligament injury, the question which will be exercising Shearer is: who is the more fulfilled? Which path do I follow? The 35-year-old has taken steps in both directions, making regular television appearances as a pundit, and working his way towards the coaching qualifications required by the modern manager.
He has spoken of wanting to take a "few years' break" but hinted he would eventually find his way into the dug-out when he said: "I want to enjoy my life, do my media work, and get my badges." Which means it will be a surprise if he is not, at some stage, entrusted with leading Newcastle to silverware. That was the mission he accepted in July 1996, when this sheet-metal worker's son joined his home-town club for a then-record £15m. Shearer was at the peak of his game, the top scorer at Euro 96, a Premiership winner with Blackburn in 1995. With Kevin Keegan as manager, and Shearer at No 9, the Magpies were at last expected to fill their nest with shiny trophies, ending a barren era which stretched back to the 1960s.
It did not quite work out like that. Shearer scored goals by the barrel-chest load, ultimately breaking Jackie Milburn's 200-goal club record. He hit five in a match against Tottenham, three in a half against Bayer Leverkusen. There were spectacular volleys, thunderous free-kicks, power headers and clinical penalties, plus the occasional tap-in. But in successive FA Cup finals he, and Newcastle, failed to score. In Europe they reached a Uefa Cup semi-final, but collapsed against Sporting Lisbon. In the League, suffering from poor leadership in the boardroom, they oscillated wildly as managers came and went with bewildering speed. The First World War phrase, "lions led by donkeys", springs to mind when considering Shearer and the Newcastle board, one of whom once derided him as "Mary Poppins".
It was a far cry from Shearer's previous clubs. Southampton may be a basket case now but when Shearer arrived in the mid-1980s they were a model of stability. Shearer, though far from home, thrived, marking his debut at 17 with a hat-trick. He scored again on his England bow, alongside Lineker, in 1992, but only became a prolific finisher after moving to Blackburn for a then record £3.2m that summer.
It was the dawn of the Premiership and for a few seasons Shearer was at its heart as he spearheaded the Rovers challenge to Manchester United. He won the writers' and players' individual awards and, had he not been cut down by injury, he would probably have helped England reach the 1994 World Cup.
International glory was to prove even more elusive than that at club level but the football career of Shearer may only be half over. As a player he was ruthless, brave and astute, good qualities for a goalscorer, but also for a manager.
Best foot forward: Shearer's highs and lows
* 1970: Born 13 August, Newcastle.
* 1988: Scores hat-trick in 4-2 win over Arsenal at Dell on Southampton debut.
* 1992: Makes England debut at Wembley on 19 February, scoring in 2-0 win over France. Joins Blackburn in £3.2m deal.
* 1995: Leads Blackburn to first League title in 81 years.
* 1996: Top goalscorer at Euro '96 with five goals and moves to Newcastle in world record £15m deal.
* 2006: Scores 201st goal for Newcastle at home to Portsmouth to become top scorer in club's history. Knee injury in win over Sunderland and calls time on career.Reuse content