Keegan makes his statement of intent

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The Independent Online
Having been psyched out in the championship race by Alex Ferguson, Kevin Keegan is entitled to feel he gained a measure of recompense yesterday. By May, the balance sheet may be squared.

As a statement of intent, Alan Shearer's signing could not be bettered. Three months ago, there were whispers of Keegan quitting. Instead, he has reaffirmed his belief in Newcastle's potential and in his method of realising it.

To Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Faustino Asprilla, Keith Gillespie and Peter Beardsley can now be added Shearer, arguably - along with Jurgen Klinsmann - the most complete striker in Europe.

Logic dictates one or more strikers will now be sold. But logic suggested a new pair of full-backs and maybe a goalkeeper were a more pressing requirement than another forward.

But could Keegan really have allowed Shearer to go to Manchester United? If he had, next season's title would have been as good as settled. Now, with Manchester also embroiled in the Champions' League, it looks even. Indeed, it bubbles with promise, especially if Liverpool, Arsenal or Tottenham can also add to last season's potential.

Wither Blackburn? At least their fans can console themselves with the knowledge that Shearer did not go to Old Trafford, but instead to his boyhood heroes. Yet how can they hope to replace him?

The slow improvement during last season, although aided by the introduction of Lars Bohinen and the return of Jason Wilcox, was built on Shearer's goals. So was their title. Ray Harford has money to spend, but he has always had that; the problem is that players of Shearer's quality are few and they are even more rarely available.

For Shearer himself, the move fulfils a long-held dream. As a youngster, he queued for hours to watch Keegan play at St James's Park. Like most Geordies, he has always retained an attachment to Tyneside wherever he has roamed. Not that this is a romantic move. Shearer showed when he left home for Southampton as a 15-year-old that he is a pragmatist.

At one stage, he did dream of returning to Newcastle in the twilight of his career to lift them from their slumber as Keegan the player had once done. Keegan's second coming changed all that. If Shearer now waited until his thirties, Newcastle would have no need of him. They are ready now, ready enough for Shearer to spurn both Old Trafford and Italy's Serie A.

Newcastle stand, as Blackburn did in 1992, on the brink of glory. Shearer's goals may again provide the impetus to achieve that final step.

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