Shearer forced to take stock; THE MONDAY INTERVIEW

After a remarkable 10 months, the England captain is on the sidelines again. But, as he tells Ian Stafford, he is not complaining
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The Independent Online
Alan Shearer listens impassively at his Wolviston home as I run through the series of incredible events that have befallen him in the past 10 months. A semi-final in Euro '96, and a competition in which he establishes himself as a world star. A world record transfer to the home-town team he has always supported. I pause, momentarily, and receive a small grunt of acknowledgement.

A change in international management, followed by elevation to the England captaincy. An encouraging early autumn in the Premiership for Newcastle coupled with a promising run in the Uefa Cup and three successive World Cup qualifying wins.

But then the wheels began to creak. Newcastle's infuriating inconsistency sees them dumped out of the domestic cup competitions, and lose ground on the race for the championship. Kevin Keegan departed in such a hurry that even Shearer was unaware until the man who brought him back to the North-east had disappeared to the Florida sunshine.

Enter Kenny Dalglish, the man who won the race to sign the young Shearer from Southampton. Yet still the chinks remain in Newcastle's armoury while, back at England, the World Cup campaign has suddenly been railroaded by the Italians at Wembley.

Now Shearer has just undergone a second groin operation in three months and, as we speak, is resting gingerly and facing a frustrating few weeks or even months out of the game, a time when the last remnants of Newcastle's season will most probably be decided without him.

So, a pretty uneventful time, then?

"Well, that's football for you," he says.

I suggest that no other player in the country has had quite the same past 10 months as he has. "Well, you're right, but what I meant was that nothing ever surprises me in this game.

"If you need any proof, then just look at what's happened to me in the past year. You can make plans but the game has a habit of making decisions for you. You never know what's around the corner. Right now I'm injured again, and it's a particularly bad time to be injured. But it's a small hiccup compared to everything else that's gone right for me."

The Shearer roll began at Wembley against Switzerland in the first match of Euro '96. The 26-year-old ended a goal famine for England and went on to become the highest scorer in the competition. Can he put his finger on why he suddenly found his touch for England?

"If I knew why I would put it to good use in every single game I played in. The truth is there is no reason why I suddenly started to score for England. I remember telling you last year that the only person in the country, seemingly, who was not concerned about my lack of goals for England was me, and that was the case.

"I didn't play any differently for England in Euro '96, although the team, as a whole, played better as our confidence rose, and it just boiled down to a good spell following a bad spell. Every striker in the country goes through barren periods, but the good ones always follow them up with a goal spree. We did reasonably well in reaching the semi-final, but I would have swapped all my goals for a win in the final."

Shearer has always maintained this particular line. But even he has to admit the competition was a personal triumph. "Well, yes, it was great to be involved, and it went very well from a personal point of view. But as I said, it would have been better if we had won something."

Even so, his goals made him the hottest property in the game, and one that Keegan could not ignore. Shearer duly returned to Newcastle, a team he used to watch from the Gallowgate end every week, for a staggering, world record fee of pounds 15m. On the day he arrived he was greeted by a 10,000- strong crowd who stood in the rain outside St James' Park and hailed him as their saviour.

Now, some might say the weight of expectancy might bear too heavily on most footballer's shoulders. Not, it seems, with Shearer. "It was the dream move for me," he begins. "I'd always wanted to play for Newcastle and the price tag does not change the way you play. In fact, I was genuinely honoured to know that people rated me that highly, and were prepared to pay so much." He gives the issue a little more thought, before adding. "In fact, I actually enjoy being the world's most expensive signing. I really do."

But what about the people of Newcastle? Surely he knows that he has to produce for them? "Oh yes, of course, but I've had expectancy wherever I've gone, and I've learned to live with it up to now.

"I'll admit I was a little taken aback by the size of the crowd who came up to the ground to see me arrive. I expected a few, but I was amazed to see how many turned up, especially as it was pouring with rain at the time. Again, I only see this as a tremendous honour, and not something to be negative about."

The next instalment in this outrageous Boys' Own script took place when Glenn Hoddle replaced Terry Venables as England coach, and duly made Shearer team captain. According to Shearer the transition was a smooth process.

"Nobody wanted to see Terry go," he admits. "We all genuinely got on well with him, and we never quite got to the whole truth behind why Terry had to go. We lost a great manager, but we gained another one. Both Terry and Glenn are winners, that much is obvious. Both like to not only win, but to win in style, and apart from a few minor tweaks there has been little difference playing under the new manager. Besides, if it's not broken, you don't need to fix it, do you?"

Was Hoddle one of your childhood heroes?

"Me? I was into centre-forwards."

Hoddle's appointment led to Shearer becoming England's 100th captain.

"I was surprised when Glenn told me," he admits. "I didn't expect it at all. In fact, the thought of captaining England had never entered my head." What, not even when you were kicking the ball around as a child? "No, then I was just imagining playing for Newcastle and England. But never as captain. Now that I am I have to say, even when I look at everything else that has happened to me in football, that this has to be the very best moment in my career. Not much can beat becoming the captain of your country."

He remains upbeat about England's World Cup chances, but also admits the Italy game went horribly wrong. "We didn't play well, and neither did the Italians," he says. "There were very few chances in the game, and we didn't take the one we created. Everywhere I went a defender was with me and they succeeded in shutting me and the rest of the team out. I don't think you can just put it down to the Italians stopping us, though. We just didn't perform on the night, and I'm still not quite sure why.

It's a real shame we have to wait so long for the next World Cup game. I know that we were all itching to come straight out of the dressing-room to make amends."

Was he surprised by the reaction to the defeat?

"Not really. You get used to it. I felt that it was totally wrong that Matthew Le Tissier took the brunt for the performance. Matt's been there before and is big enough and strong enough to take it but, as far as I'm concerned, we should all have taken some stick. I don't think we have anything to fear when we go to Italy, and don't forget they still have to go to Poland. There's a long, long way to go."

Meanwhile, back in club land, Shearer finds himself now serving under Dalglish. Like the England situation, he must have mixed feelings about the managerial turnabout? "It's just like England, now that you mention it. Newcastle lost a great manager, and gained another one. Nobody fully understands why Kevin left but he must be respected for doing so."

Was Shearer concerned about his move to Newcastle at this stage? "Not at all, because I knew that a club as big as Newcastle would go out and buy the biggest and best available."

When the news of Dalglish's appointment filtered through to the team, the players made a beeline for Shearer. "They all wanted to know what Kenny was like. Like everyone else, they could only judge him on what they had read and seen, but now they realise how much more there is to the man. I admire him enormously, and when I heard he would be my manager again, I was extremely pleased."

I make the point that the earth has hardly moved yet under Dalglish's command. Shearer pounces on this like a half-chance inside the six-yard box.

"Well, it's not his team, is it? It's Kevin's. All the players at Newcastle were signed by Kevin, so Kenny can't take the brunt for our poor results, can he? I can only presume that Kenny will be bringing in some of his own players sooner or later, but first he is taking stock of what he has. Judge the man after that."

It would help if Shearer, of course, was playing, especially tonight, when his team face a crucial Premiership trip to Liverpool. Some reports suggest that he only has himself to blame for the reoccurrence of his right groin injury, after making a too hasty comeback. "I've asked the surgeon about that," he says. "He told me that if that had been the case, my groin would have gone in my first game, not after three months. No, apparently I had a one per cent chance of the injury happening again, and I've just been unlucky. I'll be back when it feels right and stops hurting. It could be four weeks, or it could be four months, although I'll be very disappointed and surprised if it's the latter."

As we say our goodbyes I put it to him that he would struggle to top the last 10 months in the following year or so. Predictably, he doesn't agree. "Well, I don't know about that. There's a championship and Uefa Cup still to win, and we're not out of either yet. And England have got to qualify for the World Cup. If we can do all that, then I'll be happy.'

And if he does, then it will just be another uneventful year in the life of Alan Shearer.