Year of the comeback: No substitute for man of supreme reliability: Football

Alan Shearer: The nation expects

Look at the Premiership's list of goalscorers and for all the importing of foreign strikers, there remains what looks like a reassuring array of Englishmen. Take your pick from Andy Cole, Chris Sutton, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Scholes and Stan Collymore; even 18-year-old Michael Owen.

The national team would seem spoilt for choice and indeed there are several countries who would give much to have such a group from which to pick for the summer's World Cup finals, not least a host nation in France who are struggling to score goals. The problem for England is that, Sheringham apart, doubts still exist about all at international level and none positively demands automatic selection.

Only Alan Shearer falls into that category and there are many reasons why the England coach Glenn Hoddle's hope for the new year is that the country's most formidable striker regains full fitness and form well in advance of June. England going into a major tournament without Shearer would be like visiting Disneyworld without a child in tow; still enjoyable but not deriving the full benefit.

During his 35 internationals, Shearer may once have endured 12 matches without a goal but never during that period did Terry Venables consider dropping him. His work on behalf of the team, the attention he attracted from opposing defences and consequently the chances he created for other players made him simply indispensable. Besides, once the dam was broken one sensed that a torrent would be set loose. Shearer was top scorer at Euro 96 with five goals and for the team winning the World Cup this year, that minimum will also surely be required of its main striker. For England, from whom else could it come?

Perhaps it is Shearer's miracle-working potential that prompted dismissed reports in midweek that he could be fit for today's FA Cup tie against Everton, though more likely it is an increasing frustration at Newcastle's recent inability to score goals that has him rushing back from the ligament damage and broken leg he sustained last July.

Shearer's injury history has made him aware of his body's limitations and capabilities and he insists he will not rush back. He is now running but not in full contact training and unless he is healing even more quickly than in the past, then February remains the expected start time. The evidence suggesting that he will soon be back to his best is strong. He missed, for example, the last five months of the 1992-93 season with a cruciate ligament injury but returned powerfully the next season. After six substitute appearances - one goal - he proceeded to score 10 goals in his first seven starts.

He also returned within 30 days of each of his groin and hernia operations when the prognosis was for double that. After the first came his scoring bout at Euro 96. In November that year he scored two in two games on his return and last March he also scored in his first game back.

Despite all that, England's match against Chile on 11 February may be too soon and Hoddle may anyway want to try another partner for Sheringham, who remains with Shearer the dream ticket as the evidence of their last pairing - against Poland last May - insists. Flavours of the month are notoriously unreliable but Cole is at present making a strong case for another trial, not only with his goals but also in the way he is blending with Sheringham at Manchester United, whose line-up also offers England the prospect of Scholes supporting them from midfield.

Sutton also deserves another chance - as Shearer's understudy rather than partner - as does Robbie Fowler, whom this correspondent believes to be the genuine article with his pace and eye for goal. The need is for him to take his club confidence to international level. Michael Owen has yet to approach that as a player but his temperament makes up for some deficiences. Hoddle's recent doubts over "his off-the-field situation" surely refer to him not succumbing to any malign Merseyside influence as he is potentially as well balanced a character as Shearer.

For the fading Ferdinand, Collymore and, most sadly, Wright, it may be a World Cup too late. Even if it is one too soon for Owen, his outrageous pace and upper body movement that throws even experienced defenders could make him England's young joker in the striking pack - as a substitute perhaps. That is, though, if there can be any substitute for Shearer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform