Souness will not rush Shearer into retirement

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The Independent Football

Graeme Souness, the Newcastle United manager, insisted yesterday that he will not rush Alan Shearer into a decision over his playing future.

Graeme Souness, the Newcastle United manager, insisted yesterday that he will not rush Alan Shearer into a decision over his playing future.

The Scot has often said he hopes his 34-year-old captain can be persuaded to stay on beyond his planned retirement date at the end of this season.

Souness faces the very real prospect of losing three of his four front-line strikers in the summer if Shearer retires from the game, Patrick Kluivert fails to win an extended stay on Tyneside and the rebellious Craig Bellamy is sold.

Souness said he had not set a date for a final decision from the former England captain. But while remaining optimistic that Shearer will play on, he will continue his close-season recruitment drive regardless.

"What Alan does will not affect our intentions at the end of the season in terms of bringing new players in - because I have emphasised all along that Alan, next year, would be equally as important to me for what he gives off the pitch as on the pitch.

"I want him around the place; I want him standing shoulder to shoulder with me."

Shearer has played down speculation he might stay on or even accept a role on the coaching staff - but yesterday as he flew out to Greece with his team-mates he was concentrating solely on tomorrow's visit to Olympiakos as the Uefa Cup enters the last-16 stage.

Newcastle will defend a five-game winning run at the Karaiskakis Stadium against a team riding high at the top of the Greek league - although Sunday's 1-1 draw at PAOK Thessaloniki allowed Panathinaikos to close to goal difference a gap which a month ago stood at seven points.

The Greeks, who will celebrate the 80th anniversary of their club's founding on the day of the game, boast the Brazilian Rivaldo among their ranks and beat Liverpool 1-0 in Piraeus in the Champions' League earlier this season. Newcastle none the less left Tyneside brimming with confidence, having won their last two games - against Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool - and that was achieved with the England midfielders Nicky Butt and Jermaine Jenas on the bench.

"A club like this has to have a squad of players, and I do not think we have enough players," he said. "When you are winning the players who find themselves not in the team have to be patient - it is as simple as that.

"They have a shout and an argument if you are not winning. But it is no different at any of the big clubs, and the big clubs which carry the big squads are generally involved in the Champions' League.

"The one area we are strong in is the centre of midfield. Nicky has been out for a long period of time, and we never play unimportant games here - so you can never say, 'This is not such an important game today, we can throw him in'.

Celestine Babayaro and Darren Ambrose remain on the injured list, while Andy O'Brien will return to defence in place of the ineligible Jean-Alain Boumsong - and Kluivert could be preferred up front to Shola Ameobi.

"Andy has been fantastic," said Souness. "He cannot be the happiest bunny around, not being in the team. But the lads at the back have done well - Titus [Bramble] and Jean-Alain have done very well - and he is going to have to wait his turn.

"It is a chance now to make life difficult for me by being outstanding [tomorrow] night."