Posts Tagged ‘England’

Downfall of the Architect!
How to Stop Pirlo by Rafa Benitez


Denying Pirlo space is key says Rafa

I know Andrea Pirlo is on your minds because people have been telling me so in the few weeks since I have been back in England, at the end of my first season in charge of Napoli.

Yes, he is quite a player. Of course we need to discuss him in some detail because we know he will probably be very dangerous in a place like Manaus when England start their tournament against Cesare Prandelli’s team on Saturday. The simple idea is to man-mark Pirlo. Simple in theory? Maybe. Simple in practice? No. Even if somebody like Danny Welbeck is sent on to the pitch with the job of stopping Pirlo – chasing and chasing, closing him down – the Italian will still have the ability to find space and put in the pass that can change everything.

It was the same last season when my Napoli side played his Juventus team. (They won in Turin, we won in Stadio San Paolo.) We started with a strategy to stop Pirlo as much as we could, controlling the space around him and limiting the possibilities of him creating serious danger. Whatever you do against him, he will probably always have his moment to put in the important pass. “Thread it” as I know you like to say. A very appropriate word!

It wasn’t easy when we were at Liverpool and faced him at the heart of the Milan team, in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. It was difficult to close him down. On a hot night in Istanbul, it was Harry Kewell’s job to be tight on him as soon as we lost the ball, staying close to him every time, putting pressure on him, being alert to collect the second ball, not letting Pirlo settle down. Not allowing him time to pick out his pass, basically.

You can never plan for everything as a manager and Kewell shouted across to us that he was injured after about 20 minutes. But what was important about that game was approaching Pirlo with an attacking mentality. We also wanted Kewell and Steven Gerrard to make use of the spaces either side of Pirlo – because despite his incredible talent he was not the quickest when acting as a defensive shield. We also wanted to double up in the wide areas, switching play fast from midfield to isolate one of the full-backs, who in Milan’s diamond formation had to do all the work on the wings.

England have the mix of players at this competition to have ambition, too, when approaching Pirlo and Italy. They don’t need to live on their wits, as I think you call it, sitting and sitting and playing only on the counter-attack. They have the right mix of players – Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, experience; Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, pace and hunger – to take the ball and do their own thing, knowing that they can cause Italy a threat and be dangerous.


Pirlo is ‘The Architect’ for the Azzuri

Of course, it is always about the balance between defence and attack. As a manager you know that it always depends on what the other team do, too. Look out particularly for my Napoli player Lorenzo Insigne in the days and weeks ahead. He is a young player – not tall, but with pace and mobility who works on the left side, looking to go in-field. And he is not only dangerous because of his goals.
People in England also often ask me about Mario Balotelli, who was at Inter when I arrived as manager. Sometimes players need to be 26 or 27 to see what talent they have and decide not to waste it. It is never too late. For now, it is just difficult to predict how much he will threaten England.

So, there are players and names to think about but England have a better squad to beat Italy than they did when we were writing about them here four years ago. I believe there is too much English pessimism sometimes. The word “architect” has always been used about Pirlo, but England need to know that they can be their own architects. I remember that in some important games at Liverpool I used to write four words down, in Spanish, to remind the players what I wanted them to remember. Decision. Conviccion. Hambre. Quererla. Decisiveness. Conviction. Hunger. Want the ball. England can go into this match with all of those things in their minds.

This article first appeared in The Independent.


If You Know Your History!
Past Encounters: England v Italy

England’s last meeting with Italy ended in dire disappointment at Euro 2012.

Roy Hodgson’s side were outplayed for much of the game but managed to hang on to have a chance of stealing victory in a penalty shoot-out – but yet again failed when it came to spot kicks.

Here are nine other significant encounters down the years;

1934 – England 3-2 Italy, Highbury

Italy turned up in London fresh from their World Cup triumph on home soil earlier that year. England had refused to participate in that tournament but retained a fierce reputation so the match was billed as a clash to decide who was the best team in the world. The contest that was dubbed the Battle of Highbury proved anything but decisive. A famously violent affair, England – with seven Arsenal players in their line-up – did defeat the Italians. But with no substitutions permitted, Italy were forced to play much of the game with 10 men after Luis Monti was injured early on as a result of a crunching clash with England goalscorer Ted Drake.

1961 – Italy 2-3 England, Rome

This remains England’s most recent victory over the Azzurri on Italian soil. The Three Lions boasted the likes of Bobby Robson and Bobby Charlton in the ranks but were 2-1 down to an Italy side that included Giovanni Trapattoni. A second goal from Gerry Hitchens and a late winner from Jimmy Greaves turned the game around for the visitors, with both players completing moves to Serie A that summer. Highlights are below;

1973 – England 0-1 Italy, Wembley

Back in the 1970s a victory over England at Wembley could put Italy in an exclusive club. Outside of the British Isles, only four countries had beaten the English in front of their own supporters. Italy’s victory at the home of football saw them become the fifth. With just five minutes remaining, Giorgio Chinaglia beat Bobby Moore and crossed for the future England manager Fabio Capello to fire the ball past Peter Shilton.

1977 – England 2-0 Italy, Wembley

England and Italy were paired together in qualification for the 1978 World Cup. It was a tough draw given that only one side could qualify. The other two nations in a four-team group – Finland and Luxembourg – were both pummelled leaving England vulnerable following a 2-0 defeat to Italy earlier in the group. They had to beat Italy convincingly at Wembley and hope goal difference would go in their favour. Goals from Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking secured the points but it wasn’t enough for Ron Greenwood’s side and a 3-0 win for the Italians against Luxembourg the following month saw England miss out.

1980 – Italy 1-0 England, Turin


Captains Keegan and Zoff shake hands

England went to Euro ’80 with a squad full of winners. Thanks to the success of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on the continent, the players possessed an astonishing 19 European Cup winners’ medals between them. But an opening draw against Belgium put Greenwood’s men under pressure to beat Italy on their own turf. With Trevor Francis unavailable through injury and Keegan flagging after a long season, England’s hopes were dashed by a late Marco Tardelli goal.

1990 – Italy 2-1 England, Bari

Both teams had suffered penalty shootout heartbreak in the semi-finals but it was Italy who claimed third place. A shocking error from Peter Shilton, in his final appearance for England, allowed Roberto Baggio to open the scoring in the second-half. Tony Dorigo crossed for David Platt to head home his third goal of the tournament but, after Paul Parker hauled down Salvatore Schillachi just before the end, the Italy striker made no mistake from the spot.

1997 – England 0-1 Italy, Wembley

Glenn Hoddle’s gamble of selecting Matt Le Tissier was leaked to the media ahead of the game and the spotlight was firmly on the mercurial Southampton forward in the build-up to this World Cup qualifier. Instead it was the diminutive Chelsea man Gianfranco Zola who took centre-stage for the visitors, beating David Seaman’s deputy Ian Walker at his near post early on. The Italians held on to put themselves in pole position to qualify for the following year’s World Cup.

1997 – Italy 0-2 England, Nantes

Le Tournoi in France was the preparatory tournament for the 1998 World Cup – in many ways a forerunner to the Confederations Cup. Hosts France invited England and the two finalists from the previous World Cup, Brazil and Italy, to play in a round-robin contest. The tournament is remembered chiefly for an outrageous free-kick by Roberto Carlos but it was England who won the competition – thanks in part to goals from Ian Wright and Paul Scholes in an impressive victory over the Italians.

1997 – Italy 0-0 England, Rome

England had surrendered the advantage in Group 2 of World Cup qualifying after the aforementioned Wembley defeat to Italy. But goalless draws for the Italians in Poland and Georgia had handed the initiative back to Hoddle’s team. As a result, a draw would be sufficient in Rome for England to guarantee their place at France ’98 and consign Italy to a play-off place. The Three Lions produced one of their more composed displays to fend off the Italians with Paul Ince taking the plaudits after playing on with a visible head injury.


Beckham, Ince and Gazza celebrate qualification for France ’98

Sterling Red a Bonus!
PLUS Italy Game Set for Draw & Long Way Yet for Ladies

by Rob Shepherd.

Red is Good!


Sterling can’t believe it

Most seemed to think Raheem Sterling was hard done by with the red card he suffered in England’s 2-2 draw against Ecuador. But much ridiculed American referee Jair Marrufo could well have done England a favour…

The incident when Sterling brought down Antonio Valencia highlighted the restraints players will be under at the World Cup. They simply cannot afford to go diving in with the flying feet.

Even if Sterling did get a bit of his foot on the ball his follow-through did catch Valencia. Yes, Valencia’s reaction seemed to make the situation worse.

But ref Marrufo will have viewed that Sterling’s challenge endangered the opponent, regardless of whether he got some of the ball or not.

Make no mistake refs, certainly in the early stages, will be under pressure from FIFA guidelines to show red for such tackles.

Over the years England players have fallen foul of strict guidelines over certain incidents that are regarded as “soft” in this country.

Take Ray Wilkins in 1986 then David Beckham in 1988. And of course Wayne Rooney saw red in 2006.

So Roy Hodgson should use the Sterling incident as a foot-on-the-ball warning to his team – not least because players don’t need to be making such lunging tackles by the touchline in the first place.

And whiles he’s at it remind Jack Wilshere if he gets seen by an official losing his rage like that he’ll be shown red too!


Anyone For A Nil-Nil…?

A bloody Ince organises England

A bloody Ince organises England

England’s last two meaningful matches versus Italy have ended in goal less draws.

Two years the 0-0 was regarded as a dire display as Italy won the penalty shoot out 4-2 to knock England out of the European Championships.

Agreed, Italy were the superior side but in the end the margins came down to the cruel cut of pens.

In October 1997 England played a 0-0 draw with Italy in Rome to clinch a place at the 1998 World Cup finals and force Italy to get their the hard way via a play-off.

The 0-0 draw was deemed a triumph. True, England inspired by the head-bandaged Paul Ince and disciplined Paul Gascoigne produced one of a tactically stoic display under Glenn Hoddle, but it could easily have ended in tears.

In the final minute after Ian Wright had hit a post Italy should have snatched a last gasp winner but Chrstian Vieiri headed a fraction wide.

Again the slimmest of margins.

One suspects it will be very tight and tense once again in next Saturday’s opening game.

But if England needed any added inspiration they could do no worse than watch a re-run of that game in the Rome nearly 17 years ago.


Lady Maybe..?

It was great to be a guest of FootballFanCast and Strongbow last Wednesday who hosted a TV link of the England – Ecuador match and the results of their RioChallenge competition at Riley’s sports bar in Pimlico.

In a nutshell the winners of a Strongbow male five aside competition went over to Rio in Brazil to take on a ladies team.

Former footballer now Sky pundit Chris Kamara was a speaking guest and he suggested that in the near future a woman would be in the squad of a Premier League team.

I disagreed with “Kammy” who coached the chaps in Brazil. That caused some waves with the PC crowd.

But despite their skills I can’t ever see women competing with men physically at the top level. That’s not sexist.

Besides, why undermine the growing sport of Ladies football..? Woman’s tennis, golf, cricket, hockey, athletics etc all get on in their own right .

Indeed after a good start the skillful Vasco Ladies eventually lost 7-1 to a team from the Royal Navy (footage below).


England Victorious!?! Even Though the Azzurri Denied them Third Place – England meet Italy at the World Cup

Trevor Steven moves away from Italy's Carlo Ancelotti with the ball

Trevor Steven moves away from Italy’s Carlo Ancelotti with the ball

by Richard Bowdery.

It was 24 years ago that England last played Italy during the World Cup Finals.

Prior to that game in the 1990 tournament, England faced an auld enemy – no, not Scotland, West Germany – in the semi-final: a match which introduced the footballing world to the Tears of Gazza.

You may recall he was booked during the game which meant he could not play in the Final (against Argentina, the conquerors of Italy in the other semi), should England overcome their Teutonic neighbour from across the Channel.

He needn’t have worried. A penalty shoot-out put paid to any hopes the nation had of reaching the pinnacle of world football – a position they had not reached since the heroics of ’66.

The third place play-off, on 7 July against Italy, was no more than the warm up act for the main event the following day which was won by West Germany 1-0. It was the last time the victors took to the field with West as an appendage to their name, following the collapse of Communism a year earlier.

But against the Azzurri England failed to deliver, going down by the odd goal in three.

Baggio opened the scoring on 71 minutes following an error by Shilton playing his 125th and last international. Platt netted an equalizer 10 minutes later with a bullet of a header, only for Schillaci to win it for the Italians with a penalty 4 minutes from time.


The players from both sides enjoy a Mexican wave after the match

The teams that day were:


Peter Shilton (c)
Gary Stevens
Des Walker
Gary Steven
Paul Parker
Mark Wright (73 Chris Waddle)
Steve McMahon (73 Neil Webb)
David Platt
Tony Dorigo
Gary Lineker
Peter Beardsley


Bergomi (c)
de Agostini (68 Berti)
Giannini (90 Ferri)

You may have noticed one Carlo Ancelotti in the Italian line up – the former Chelsea manager and three times winner of the European Cup, equaling Bob Paisley’s record.

But if England didn’t win the tournament or get third place, what did they win?

What seems ingrained in the British psyche, sometimes to our detriment, is fair play. And that is what England won in 1990: the Fair Play award, for having received no reds and the fewest number of yellow cards across the Finals.

This year the nation hopes England go all the way. And let someone else win the Fair Play award.

But first there is a little matter of settling a 24 year old score on 14 June. Come on England!

Barkley Can Be England’s ‘Gazza’ of World Cup 2014
Hodgson Must Take Note!


Barkley provided England with the spark that has been missing

by Rob Shepherd.

There was more than one occasion watching England’s 2-2 draw against Ecuador on Wednesday night when I had to blink twice and make sure it was Ross Barkley not Paul Gascoigne who was pulling the strings for England.

Not since Gascoigne has an England midfield player performed with such panache, vision, subtle skill and bare faced cheek as Barkley showed in Miami.

There were dribbles, step-overs, nut-megs, probing passes and always a threat on goal. The things that not only take opponents out of the game and open them up but also put fear inside them.

Despite the demons that have invaded his life those were the attributes that still see Gazza revered by a generation, especially for how he transformed England at the 1990 World Cup finals.

But now at last there seems to be a genuine heir, in football terms at least, although I doubt a lad from Merseyside would take too kindly to the nickname of Rossa.

The manner in which Ross Barkley set up Rickie Lambert for England’s second goal in Miami was straight out of Gazza’s mercurial manual.


The big question is: will Roy Hodgson have the balls to unleash Barkley at Brasil ’14 as Bobby Robson did Gascoigne at Italia ’90..?

Judging by Hodgson’s comments in the wake of Wednesday’s game he is not ready to take the “gamble”. Yet in many ways Hodgson’s reluctant rhetoric echoed that of Robson ahead of Italia 90, so perhaps he is bluffing.

Hodgson has described the constant questions about Barkley as an obsession. Robson felt the same way when the press corps kept banging on about Gascoigne.

Of Barkley’s exciting display in Miami Hodgson said: “He lost the ball an awful lot of times as well. If he’s going to be the player we want him to be he has to make better decisions of when he turns with the ball.”

It is what Robson kept saying about Gazza in the build up to Italia ’90.

Indeed it should be remembered that Gascoigne, 21 by the start of that tournament, was as much an international rookie as 20 year-old Barkley is now.

Gascoigne had played bit parts in the qualifiers and it was only in a friendly match against Czechoslovakia in late April that he pushed himself into the frame when he scored one and made three in a 4-2 win at Wembley.


Even then Robson harboured doubts but when it came to the crunch he went with Gascoigne’s maverick style rather than the more “reliable” Neil Webb and Steve McMahon.

After a dour opening draw against Ireland, England came alive in another draw against Holland where Gascoigne’s lust for the game and penchant for the unexpected offered England a new dimension.

For once a Dutch team playing England looked scared of player who could out play them.

Galvanised by Gazza, England went on to produce some of their best ever football at a major tournament until losing to West Germany on penalties in the semi-final.

Given the system Hodgson plays there is actually more margin for “error” by putting Barkley in the team – especially if he replaces the jaded looking and over hyped Wayne Rooney. Also Barkley’s personality is less erratic than Gascoigne’s, so is his discipline.

The game breakers – the players who have the skill and bravery to take on opponents in the tightest positions – are liable to lose the ball as Barkley did against Equador. It sometimes even still happens to Messi and Ronaldo. But these are the players who raise teams to a different level and put a smile on the face of supporters.

Gascoigne did that for England in 1990 and Barkley can do that this summer.

So what if England can’t win the World Cup..? Hodgson, as Robson did, should at least give it a try.


Gazza attempted more dribbles than any other England player in World Cup finals history – and he only played in one tournament!



Cafu The Inspiration for Johnson
PLUS: England Full-Back Warns “Suarez Not The Only Threat!”

Cafu won 125 caps for Brazil

Cafu won 125 caps for Brazil

by Rob Shepherd.

Glen Johnson grew up wanting to be like Brazil World Cup legend Cafu.

Now the England star will get the chance to do just that when he goes to his hero’s homeland in search of World Cup glory.

Johnson is expected to be one of the first names on Roy Hodgson’s team-sheet when the Three Lions open their Group D campaign against Italy in the Amazonian city of Manaus on June 14.

The Liverpool defender has cemented his place as Hodgson’s first choice right-back following an impressive season in the Premier League. Now he has revealed his attacking game is modelled on Cafu and he is hoping Hodgson gives him the freedom to do his best impression of the man who won a staggering 145 caps and captained Brazil to World Cup triumph in 2002.

Johnson said: “They’ve had many attacking full-backs over the years in Brazil so I’m sure the fans would appreciate seeing other full-backs do similar stuff.

“You love to watch all the attacking players but Cafu, obviously, who played in the same position, was probably best right-back there has ever been.

“It was great to see players like that. It was just the way he carried himself, he was brilliant going forward, good on the ball and could defend very well.

“He had a bit of swagger and played in plenty of World Cups.

“It’s always been a big part of my game, to attack when I can, get forward and support the lads. I like to try and cause a few problems for the other side. I’ve always liked to get forward and hopefully that will continue in Brazil.”

“They are going to have good players and Luis won’t be the only one to worry about”

Get Forward

Johnson didn’t get much chance to express himself under Fabio Capello at the last World Cup in 2010 – but is hoping things will be different this time round.

Johnson, who has won 50 caps, said: “The coaches encourage you to get forward but obviously how and when is your decision because you’re playing the game.

“But sometimes when you end up on the other side of the field it’s because certain things have unfolded and you’ve seen more room and are trying to exploit that.

“Obviously the coaches wouldn’t be encouraging me to run across to the left wing too often, but once you cross that white line you’ve got to play that game and try and put into practice what you’ve been doing in training.

“I’ll probably get a bit more freedom, because Roy definitely encourages full-backs to get forward and join in.

“We’ve got to be as dangerous as we possibly can when we have the ball.”



Johnson won his 50th cap against Denmark

Despite being keen to showcase his attacking skills on the biggest stage of all, Johnson knows a major part of the challenge will also be to stop club team-mate Luis Suarez when England clash with Uruguay in Sao Paulo in the second group game on June 19.

Suarez is expected to be fit despite having knee surgery last week and Johnson knows better than most how dangerous the striker can be.

But he has warned the Three Lions not to become obsessed with Suarez and look at the bigger picture.

Johnson added: “I’ve not seen the papers for a while so I don’t know what people think the injury is, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s too bad. He thinks he’ll be fit.

“I certainly don’t want him to be injured. You don’t ever want to see your mates or team-mates injured.

“He’s one of the best strikers I’ve ever played with and I’ve played with a few good ones.

“He’s the sort of player who can create things out of nothing and causes everybody problems. You’ve seen it just as much as I have – he’s clearly not one of the players you want to play against in the World Cup.

“He’s just the same in training as in the games. He always wants to win and gets the hump if he doesn’t.

“But we’ve got some fantastic players ourselves who will cause them problems.”


WIN A GREAT RETRO ENGLAND SHIRT! Enter Our Picture Quiz & Identify The England Players To Win!

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Three lions on your shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming. You’ll want one of these classic England shirts to wear with pride for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. These two beauties have literally just arrived at Campo Retro and are now available for just £25 each! Bargain.

The famous England 1966 Bobby Moore shirt heralds back to England’s only World Cup title so far, whilst the England 1982 home shirt was a classic worn when the three lions of England took on the world’s elite in Espana ’82.

Campo Retro will have more exciting additions to the England collection coming soon!

But you can get one for FREE! Just enter our picture quiz and correctly identify the England internationals to be in with a chance!

Admiral’s Finest Hour
The Birth of the Modern Kit PLUS: England’s 2014 World Cup Strip


Woodcock never looked cooler than when wearing this England shirt

Team:  England

Home or Away:  Home

Years Active:  1980-1983

As Worn By: Kevin Keegan, Trevor Francis, Glenn Hoddle, Trevor Brooking, Graham Rix, Bryan Robson, Tony Woodcock, Steve Coppell, Paul Mariner & Mick Mills.


Admiral took over the making of the England Kit in 1974 and it was the first time that a manufactures symbol was added to the kit worn by the players. It was also the first time a licensing deal was paid to the FA allowing Admiral to market replica kits and the era of the modern kit began. They believed that a market was there for teams to create strong identities for themselves with the advent of colour television, and they were proved right despite a lot of opposition in the game at the time.

This kit was Admirals second design for England and was first worn in the 3–1 win over Argentina at Wembley Stadium on 13 May 1980. This shirt added a new dimension to the national team’s look with its coloured panels and became very popular with fans when it was worn in the 1980 European Championships in Italy, England’s first major tournament for a decade.

Despite this success the 1980s marked a period of decline for the Admiral brand as it began to lose its contracts with the major clubs to domestic rival, Umbro, and new international entrant, Adidas.

Even though Admiral still held the England kit contract, one of the most valuable in the world, the company was declared bankrupt in 1982. The brand reappeared on the market for the 1983–84 season producing the same double pinstripe design for both Leicester City and Notts County.

Rate This Kit: 

World Cup 2014

EnglandTop-634x431Nike are set in the next few days to reveal England’s kit for the World Cup finals this summer.

A photo was leaked to the internet recently which shows it to be v-neck, minimalist and retro in it’s style.

It will be an white ensemble given FIFA’s bizarre preference that all countries shall be dressed top-to-toe in the same colour to make the most of HD TV coverage from Brazil.

So that should make the change strip all red.

Unless there is a diversion, like the decision at the the 1970 World Cup to go for all sky blue, as worn when England beat Czechoslovakia that summer in Mexico thanks to an Alan Clarke penalty.

Insiders suggest it is likely that there will be a retro feel about the kits.

For further info in the next few days, it might be worth checking back here at

Peter Osgood wears England's all sky-blue kit in 1970

Peter Osgood wears England’s all sky-blue kit in 1970


Shearer: A Geordie Legend…
…at the second time of asking



Shearer broke into the Southampton first team aged just 17

by Richard D J J Bowdery

On 26 March 1988, seventeen year-old Alan Shearer made his professional footballing debut for Southampton at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

He was on the winning side as the game finished 1-0 to the Saints; a result which contributed to Chelsea‘s relegation to Division Two at the end of that season.

But for an oversight on the part of Newcastle United the young Shearer’s shirt may have had black stripes instead of red ones that afternoon.

He could also have avoided a round trip of over 580 miles that took in the south coast of England and East Lancashire.

On Trial

As a 15 year-old schoolboy Shearer was given a trial by the St. James Park club and was asked to play in goal. Unsurprisingly, for someone with an eye for scoring rather than preventing goals, he failed to impress the coaches who were monitoring the game. As a mad Magpies fan it must have broken his heart to be turned away from the club he loved.

Shearer later recalled: “I came for a trial with a lot of other lads and there was a shortage or something, so everyone had to take a turn in goal. I was no different from anyone else, I had my 20 minutes just like everyone else, but I said to someone that I’d played in goal for Newcastle when I was on trial and I’ve never heard the last of it.”

To be fair to Newcastle United, they did rectify their mistake later in Alan Shearer’s career but it cost them a lot more than it might otherwise have done.

Despite this rejection the 15 year-old managed to get trials at other clubs including Southampton who signed him up on the spot.

Two weeks after coming on as a sub against Chelsea Shearer made his full debut at The Dell versus Arsenal – and scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory. At 17 years and 240 days Shearer became the youngest scorer of a hat-trick  in top flight history, breaking a 30 year old record held by Jimmy Greaves.

During his time at the Dell he scored over 40 goals in 158 appearances. Other clubs were beginning to take notice of this young talent and it wasn’t long before a queue of admirers started to form, all eager for his signature.

England Come Calling

Included among these admirers was the late Dave Sexton, then England under-21 coach. In 1990 he brought Shearer into the squad. Shearer repaid Sexton’s faith in him by scoring 13 times in 11 appearances. This goals-to-appearances ratio brought him to the attention of another influential figure: the England manager, Graham Taylor.

Taylor gave him his senior debut against France, in February 1992. Shearer opened the scoring and Gary Lineker added a second as England ran out 2-0 winners.

Shearer’s performance on the international stage caused his stock to rise significantly on the domestic front which caused a lot of additional work for Ian Branfoot, his manager at Southampton.

With the increasing interest in his striker, Branfoot seemed to spend as much time on the telephone fielding calls from other managers looking to sign his Shearer as he did on the training field coaching his squad.


Blackburn Rovers' Alan Shearer celebrates with the Carling Premiership trophy

Shearer found success at Ewood Park

Eventually the inevitable happened and he was prised away from The Dell by Blackburn Rovers who parted with over £3 million in July 1992: helped in no small part by the financing of Blackburn’s benefactor, Jack Walker.

It was at Blackburn that Shearer was to win his only significant piece of domestic silverware: the Premiership trophy.

In that League winning 94/95 season he formed a deadly partnership with Chris Sutton – known as the SAS. Shearer’s 34 goals alongside Sutton’s 15, ensured Walker’s bankrolled Rovers top spot.

His last game for Blackburn came against Wimbledon in April 1996. He signed off with another brace of goals to go alongside 19 other braces and 9 hat-tricks.

In total he scored 130 goals in 171 appearances during his four seasons at the Lancashire club.

But now another team were keen to employ his prolific services and there was the small matter of a European championship with England, in England.

Euro ’96 & The Toon

The Euro 96 tournament was to be the highlight in Shearers international career. He finished the tournament as top-scorer with 5 goals. Unfortunately those goals weren’t enough to take England all the way to the Final.

Once again Germany stood in the way; although if Gascoigne’s legs had been an inch longer, England would have won on the golden-goal rule and avoided the penalty shoot-out. They weren’t and the host nation lost 6-5 on penalties; more than a shade of Italia ‘90.

By the end of his international career Shearer had played 63 times for England and scored 30 goals (almost one every two games).

Football didn’t truly come home in ‘96 but later that summer Shearer did, and so began his love affair with the Toon Army.

With 5 goals at Euro '96 Shearer was top scorer

With 5 goals at Euro ’96 Shearer was top scorer

But if Kevin Keegan, Shearer’s boyhood hero, hadn’t been the gaffer at Newcastle, Shearer could have become a Red Devil.

Manchester United and Newcastle United had agreed a sale price with Blackburn Rovers. Extended talks between Shearer and Alex Ferguson led everyone to believe that Old Trafford was his club of choice and yet…

Legend has it that Keegan asked for and got one final opportunity to talk with Shearer. Whatever was said Shearer put pen to paper, with Keegan looking like the cat that got the cream.

Shearer was reported to have said, on signing for the Magpies in July 1996: “It was the challenge of returning home and wearing the famous black and white shirt which made up my mind.”

The fans who turned out to greet the club’s new signing confirmed that decision. On seeing the 20,000 Newcastle fans who witnessed his official unveiling as a United player he said: “I wouldn’t have got a reception like this anywhere else in the world.”

Newcastle had shelled out a whopping £15 million – a world transfer record to capture a proven goal machine.

In more than 400 appearances Shearer netted over 200 times: more than justifying his price tag.

Of course eleven years earlier he would have cost significantly less; but then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Injury Brings the Curtain Down

In Shearer’s last season at United he broke Jackie Milburn’s record of 200 goals in a black and white shirt. The record had stood for 49 years and cemented Shearer’s place among the pantheon of Newcastle greats.

At the same time Shearer had a dual role as player/coach. It was a role he had hoped to continue in for at least another season, but a tear to the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, during the League game against Sunderland in April 2006, put paid to that aspiration and effectively ended his playing career.

Although he was never to pull on that famous number 9 shirt in anger ever again, he still went out on a high that afternoon, scoring and seeing his side beat their historical enemy 4-1.

shearerNUFCBy the time he retired from football Alan Shearer had netted 379 goals in 733 appearances on the field of battle. Of those, 260 goals came in 434 Premier League appearances: still a PL record.

Post-Playing Career

Apart from a stint as Newcastle boss towards the end of the 2008/09 season, Shearer didn’t transfer his footballing prowess to the dugout.

Instead he developed a media career as a football pundit. Today he is a regular on Match of the Day, giving viewers the benefit of his experience, gained in over 18 years as a professional footballer.

Although the Toon Army are still able to watch their hero on television, the one image that will lodge long in their memory is of Shearer wheeling away, arm aloft, as he celebrates yet another successful strike on goal.

To relive some of those deadly strikes by the Premier League’s deadliest finisher, click on the photo opposite.

A World Cup Squad Needs Attacking Options Not Defensive Cover! History proves it’s true…

by Rob Shepherd.

On the day Sven Goran Eriksson named his squad for the 2002 World Cup final squad, I bumped into his assistant Tord Grip at Marble Arch and we shared a cab for the short hop to the hotel where the 23 names would be revealed.

En route, Grip told me Eriksson had decided to include Martin Keown as extra cover in defence rather than gamble on the exciting wildcard option of Blackburn forward Matt Jansen.

Although Jansen was uncapped he was in the sort of form we have been seeing from Raheem Sterling recently, who as a consequence looks to have secured a late ticket. Jansen had even been measured for his suit.


Jansen was in fine form for Rovers back in 2002

However, they wanted the insurance of an extra defender.

But it didn’t make sense for a tournament England needed to go on front foot and win, given they had the tools to do just that.
As well as Jansen, Frank Lampard was also overlooked.

Given that Eriksson has cautiously only selected four forwards, the England squad needed more attacking bodies in midfield not a stalwart defender. After all, you’re not picking a squad for a 60-game season. It’s seven games if you go all the way the World Cup final – that’s cup football.

England could have done with more attacking options when trailing 2-1 to 10-man Brazil in the quarter-finals but the ageing Teddy Sheringham and Darius Vassell failed to offer the requisite spark when they came off the bench.

I’m not saying Jansen – who that summer suffered a motor bike accident that ruined his career – would have turned the tide. Or Lampard. But either could have done.

It just seems a waste of resources to overload a squad with defenders, when as history shows, defences tend not to change that much over such a short space of time at a tournament.


Sterling is in fine form

So it seems perfectly sensible for Roy Hodgson to load his squad with the ‘crackerjack’ wingers that have emerged over the last year.

And I would go further: Hodgson should now abandon 4-3-3 and really go for it with a full out 4-2-4 formation rather than a cautious 4-4-2. Don’t clip the wingers’ wings, let them fly!

And I would also take both Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll, providing he gets some games and goals under his belt for the rest of the season.

So what if Defoe is playing the next couple of months for Toronto?

Physically and mentally it could mean he will actually turn up sharper.

Both Defoe and Carroll offer obvious alternatives to Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney.

Here is the squad I think Hodgson should select;

Goalkeepers: Hart, Foster, Ruddy.
Defenders: Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Jones, Smalling, Baines, Shaw.
Midfielders: Lallana, Townsend, Gerrard, Lampard, Milner, Henderson, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling.
Forwards: Rooney, Sturridge, Carroll, Defoe.

My starting line up (4-2-3-1): Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Sterling; Sturridge.