The Barmby alternative

The debate over who should be Alan Shearer's partner in the England attack is rather like discussing the merits of a golf caddie. Most of the assistance is mere hard work, but the occasional inspired intervention can make all the difference.

The best options follow the lines of a current car advertisement: who will it be - Ferdinand or Barmby? Appropriately, the car happens to be Italian, and the real question facing Glenn Hoddle is who would he most want paired with Shearer when England attempt to drive through Italy's defence later in the World Cup qualifying preamble? Thoughts that the Italians are in such disarray that the challenge may not be as hard as the draw seemed to suggest are wishful. When they visit Wembley next February Italy will still have conceded only one goal in the group and England's best hope could be that pressure will again erode Italian desire.

Shearer is playing as if he will never again experience a fallow period in his international career, and the England coach will have been relieved to hear his striker discounting fears that he may soon have to have another groin operation.

There is a moderately strong case for retaining Les Ferdinand, partly because this utilises a regular partnership that exists at Newcastle, but also because he has the physical presence that intimidates. Kevin Keegan talks about Shearer and Ferdinand being the most "frightening" twin strike force in Europe, which is probably true but only because few leading European teams employ such a tactic.

The problem against Poland was that for much of the game Ferdinand seemed to dither, certainly not using his "frightening" strength and not knowing whether to make himself available for goalscoring chances or simply set up Shearer, which he did so well for the second goal. The feeling is that he is one of those sturdy, effective club players who may never blossom at international level. It was a feeling that Hoddle did nothing to dispel when he said afterwards that he was pleased with the partnership because it combated the Poles' physical presence. In other words, against different opponents he is likely to opt for a more subtle player. In the event, his decision was wrong but cost nothing simply because the Poles were not as defensive as expected and Shearer assumed so much responsibility.

Since the use of two such strong strikers does not often succeed at international level and since England had got used to Terry Venables's preference for a "split striker" system, the best alternative to Ferdinand remains Nick Barmby, who is much more of a terrier, always searching out gaps in the thickest of defensive hedges. Apart from the physical aspect, there was no sound reason to drop him. After all, he played well enough with Shearer against Moldova. Occasionally he has established the sort of productive relationship that was formed between Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley. He also takes his goalscoring chances without the self-doubt which was so evident at Wembley when Ferdinand had three late opportunities.

The probability must be that Hoddle will revert to regarding Ferdinand as cover for Shearer, but he points out that there is no such thing as an automatic striking partnership that can be relied upon whatever the defensive tactics of the opposition. "Each one is different because each partner to Alan Shearer is different and defences are not the same. Ferdinand, Barmby and Sheringham offer you different things." He also has the option of offering Matthew Le Tissier an international lifeline to revive a link that worked well at Southampton. Or he could recall Paul Merson who he believes has not had sufficient opportunities to play in a central attacking role. And when one of the main tormentors of Holland in Euro 96, Teddy Sheringham, regains full fitness, selection could almost be a problem.

After all, a centre-forward can lose his goalscoring touch just as quickly as it can return. Or an injury can leave one of his partners to take on the main goalscoring responsibility. Just ask Alan Shearer.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power