Shearer seals victory for Newcastle|
Heskey finds his Wembley feet, by Patrick Barclay
Keegan's three-piece sweet
Young talent on alert
ENGLAND captain Alan Shearer sent shockwaves through English football yesterday by announcing his intention to retire from international football after Euro 2000 this summer. The news was completely unexpected, if only because Shearer will still not have reached his 30th birthday by the time the tournament ends on July 2.
At that age, Shearer could have been expected to continue to play international football for another couple of years at least. He has always looked after himself and is one of the fittest men in the game. Obviously, however, he must be beginning to feel the strain of captaining his club, Newcastle, and his country - often in the face of heavy criticism.
From what Shearer said in his official announcement, it looks as though he feels he can serve only one master properly from now on; and he has decided that it ought to be Newcastle, his home-town club and the people who pay him a whopping £40,000 a week for his not inconsiderable services. However, he has not ruled out making the odd appearance for England, if needed.
"After a huge amount of thought," his announcement said, "I have decided to retire from international football. I would like to play, if selected, in Euro 2000 and then bow out so that the manager has time to plan effectively for the 2002 World Cup. I have spoken to both Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan and they understand my reasoning.
"I want everyone to understand that I am not walking away from a challenge. I am hugely patriotic and my time as England captain has made me incredibly proud. However, I realise that if I want to give Newcastle value for money in the remaining four years of my contract with them, I will need to pace myself a bit more than I am able to do at the moment.
"I am not saying that I would never play for England again. If there was an injury crisis or real need for me to help out, I would always be honoured to answer the call. However, football is about planning for the future and hopefully my decision today will help England become even more successful in the coming years."
Not surprisingly, England coach Kevin Keegan tried to get Shearer to change his mind after being told of the player's decision a full 24 hours before last Wednesday's friendly against Argentina at Wembley. "Of course I was very sad and I tried to persuade him to change his mind," said Keegan, who paid a record-breaking £15 million to take the striker back to Newcastle in 1996.
"But I know what makes Alan Shearer special is that he is his own man. Everyone should respect his decision. I certainly do and I'm happy for him because it's what he wants. His England record speaks for itself. A total of 28 goals in 57 games for his country has been a tremendous achievement and, who knows, the best may be yet to come at Euro 2000."
Although Keegan must be disappointed at the prospect of losing his captain and principal striker, at least Shearer's announcement has come early enough for the England coach to start making plans for the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign that follows hard on the heels of Euro 2000. Indeed, he seemed to be making a start in that direction when he substituted Shearer - a very rare occurrence - towards the end of the game against Argentina.
And, at a press conference afterwards, Keegan bridled a little when someone suggested that his attack was always a case of Alan Shearer and A. N. Other. "Contrary to reports," said the England coach, "I don't think to myself: 'Who will Alan Shearer like to be paired with?'. I think: 'Who can we play?' I think some people think you've got Alan Shearer and then everybody else. I pick him regularly because he's proven at this level, but I'm looking for partnerships."
David Davies, the executive director of the Football Association, admitted that Shearer's decision had come as a "surprise" but he paid tribute to the England captain's contribution to his country during his international career.
Davies declared: "Alan Shearer is already in the record books as one of England's great goalscorers. His decision is a surprise but, knowing Alan over several years, it won't have been made without a great deal of thought.
"Alan has never let England down and he has always given 110 per cent for his country wherever he has played around the world. He will want to end his England career with a flourish and that has to be good news for our prospects at Euro 2000."
The player likely to benefit most from Shearer's international retirement would be Emile Heskey, the young Leicester striker, who made such a favourable impression on his full debut against Argentina. But Andy Cole, too, will see the latest turn of events as a chance to press his claims for a regular place in the side from this summer onwards.
24 February 2000: Heskey shines but England draw blank
24 November 1999: Robson rushes to support 'scapegoat' Shearer
22 November 1999: Shearer in no position to dispute public's damning verdict
5 September 1999: Shearer strikes back
4 September 1999: Time for Shearer to resume leading role
18 February 1999: Shearer looks for long-term commitment at Newcastle
18 October 1998: Captain's mutiny is condemned as 'a vicious lie'
1 September 1998: Swashbuckling Shearer will not buckle under pressure
14 June 1998: Time for Shearer to prove his worth
24 April 1998: Rousing deeds from Shearer offer real hope
10 October 1996: Shearer double rescues England after early fright
30 July 1996: Keegan steals Premiership march as Shearer returns to his roots
6 November 1995: Why Shearer is still top of the 'tree'