Newcastle: Shearer happy to prove critics wrong

A little more than a year ago, Alan Shearer was not entirely convinced he would still be playing top-flight football in 2002.

The knee injury which had severely hampered him since before England's Euro 2000 campaign got underway was proving a genuine threat to the career of a man who has seen more than his fair share of operating tables during a glittering, if painfully interrupted, career.

Serious injuries have sadly been part of Shearer's life in recent years, and the persistent battering his body has endured over the last 15 years has taken its toll.

The critics insist that every cut of the surgeon's knife, every re-set bone, has diminished the powers of a man who was at one time the most feared striker in Europe and arguably, the world.

Shearer has spent much of the last five or six years attempting to, and largely succeeding in, proving his detractors wrong.

It was, therefore, time for people to stand up and take notice when, after his make-or-break trip to see American specialist Richard Steadman in Colorado last year, he admitted that he had at one point feared his career could be over.

Shearer, manager Sir Bobby Robson and the Newcastle faithful collectively held their breath as the £15million man took the first tentative steps on the road to recovery, hoping against all hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

They need not have worried.

The former England skipper confirmed his return to fitness by plundering 27 goals - including his 200th in the Premiership - in another remarkable season, but perhaps even more importantly, inspiring his home-town club's return to the business end of the league table.

"There was a time when I thought the 200 was never going to happen because I was obviously very concerned with my knee injury," he said.

"But I have to say I haven't felt that at all since I came back from America, which is a massive bonus for me."

Shearer is the first to admit that it has not been a one-man show, and much of the credit must go to Robson for his decision to recruit Laurent Robert and, arguably the signing of last season, Craig Bellamy, to increase the supply lines for his most prolific finisher.

But his talismanic powers cannot be underestimated; Shearer, the man effectively discarded by Ruud Gullit, is Robson's right-hand man both on and off the pitch, he is the rock upon which the dressing room is founded and the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the Geordie nation.

They are responsibilities in which he takes great pride, but pride is only part of what makes him tick.

Shearer turned his back on international football after Euro 2000 because he admitted that his body could not stand up to the rigours of successive 11-month seasons after the injuries he has had.

The critics intimated that his decision was a tacit admission that he could no longer hack it on the biggest stage; the man himself insisted that only by reluctantly turning his back on England could he give his best to his day-to-day employers.

That policy has proved to be absolutely correct, and both he and Newcastle have reaped the rewards to the extent that there was a groundswell of opinion in the run-up to this summer's World Cup finals that Sven-Goran Eriksson should do everything within his powers to persuade Shearer to have a temporary rethink.

However, his unshakeable belief that he had chosen the right path and the prospect of a first real summer break in years meant that, flattered as he was, there was little chance of a U-turn.

"Because of the injuries, it's impossible," he said. "At my age with my injuries, it was becoming more and more difficult.

"That was one of the reasons why I had to do it. But I do feel fresh and I feel the benefit of not playing with England, and obviously Newcastle are having the benefit as well."

Instead, Shearer headed off to put his feet up before starting the preparations for what could be one of the biggest seasons in Newcastle's recent history.

Robson's side face the first leg of their Champions League qualifier on August 14 - 24 hours after their number nine celebrates his 32nd birthday - three days before the new Premiership campaign gets underway, and that is a big carrot for him.

Shearer played on the biggest club stage during his time at Blackburn, but was injured when United last made it into the competition.

But even that will only represent the icing on the cake as his side sets out on a new season with hopes as high as ever of ending a trophy drought which now amounts to 33 years in all competitions and 47 on the domestic front.

Robson spent much of the summer working to strengthen his squad for the tests that lie ahead, but the one certainty is that, when fit, Shearer will once again be the central figure in his plans.

His manager challenged him to add another hundred Premiership goals to his tally before he finally hangs up his boots after watching him reach his double-century, and while that may have been a little tongue-in-cheek, he is confident that there are still another 40 or so left in him.

Shearer is not so sure, but as long as the hunger remains, it would be a wise man who would back against him.

"I'm not sure about another hundred," he

said. "I'll have to keep playing until I'm Bobby's age.

"Hopefully, I've got another couple of years, but we'll have to see what the body tells me."

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