Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
How England can win the World Cup
For all intents and purposes the point this column is
going to make is already redundant, and the plea I am
going to make is never going to be listened to. But I
am still going to make it anyway.
Sven-Goran Eriksson must be a worried man. The squad
he picked for the World Cup this week is looking very
brittle and is unlikely to be the same 23 that meet
Sweden. The demands of clubs desperate to qualify for
the Champions League or finish high up the league has
meant that even after Eriksson picked his squad
several players had to risk injury. And so with less
than twenty days left before the tournament starts,
England have four players - all midfielders - who may
not make the finals.
David Beckham is the least injured and will almost
certainly make the tournament, but the situation is
not so clear-cut for Nicky Butt and especially for
Steven Gerrard and Kieron Dyer. Butt has knee
ligament damage and although he is hopeful of being
able to play in Japan he is still touch and go.
According to the latest reports he is fit enough to
travel to Dubai for the pre-tournament training camp,
but whether he is capable of playing against Cameroon
or South Korea in England's last two friendlies or the
opening match against Sweden is highly questionable.
Until last weekend he would have been England's
biggest worry - then Kieron Dyer was clattered to the
ground in Newcastle's last Premiership game and was
carried off the pitch with a knee splint attached to
Even if the prognosis was more promising, his recent
injury problems meant it was unlikely that Dyer could
last a whole game in the Far East, let alone a full
tournament. This is encouraging news for Danny Murphy
- who was unlucky to miss out anyway - but now he is
on his way to Japan there is no reserve player left to
cover Butt, Gerrard and Beckham if things get worse.
The press have already started clamouring for all
sorts of players to be called up. The list is long
and exhausting - Lampard, Sinclair, Anderton and
McManaman topping it - but these players have never
really made it for England, and certainly don't look
like international quality. Bolder commentators have
called for an extra striker to get a seat on the
plane, and here the arguments start to look more
Eriksson has selected five strikers - Owen, Heskey,
Fowler, Sheringham and Vassell - but many people
thought Andy Cole should have been selected. Cole was
left out of the squad because he has a poor scoring
record for England, and has often looked out of his
depth and out of touch. Stronger claims may come from
Cole's Blackburn striking partner, Matt Jansen.
Eriksson reportedly selected him after seeing him
score against Liverpool, but Tord Grip managed to
convince him to take Martin Keown instead, primarily
as a man-marker. It would therefore not be a huge
jump to imagine Jansen getting the call if Butt breaks
down and Murphy has already replaced Dyer. After all
Keown used to play in midfield for Arsenal, and could
perform there for England. So straightforward them?
Well not quite.
I think that England could do with another striker.
Owen is the best forward in the world when he is on
form; he is a deserved European Footballer of the
Year. But what happens if he is injured against
Sweden or does not even get that far: his hamstrings
are legendary for their fragility. Are Emile Heskey
or Robbie Fowler going to score five or six goals as a
direct replacement for the boy wonder? Can either
lead the line? If not, can Darius Vassell or Teddy
Sheringham really be expected to play longer than
twenty minute bursts before drifting out of games?
And is untested Matt Jansen - zero England caps, zero
England goals - the player to take as a backup?
There will be another English striker sat at home this
summer. This striker has just finished as the top
English scorer in the Premiership, with 22 goals, just
one short of Thierry Henry. And he had three extra
'goals' taken off him by an adjudication panel that
said they were 'own goals' instead. This player once
held the world transfer fee record, and is still the
second most expensive English player ever. He is also
one of his country's best ever goalscorers, with well
over two hundred league goals and over thirty more for
his country. He has fought back from two
career-threatening injuries to fire his team into the
Champions League again, and will not be 32 until
August - a full four years younger than Teddy
Sheringham. He played for his country with dignity 54
times, captained the team with pride on many
occasions, and remains the most potent English
goalscorer available after Michael Owen. His name is
Alan Shearer and unfortunately he retired from
international football after Euro 2000.
Shearer is the best English striker of his generation
and ranks highly in the pantheon of the greatest
English forwards ever. Perhaps only Tom Finney, Tommy
Lawton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves could claim to
be abover Shearer in that list, while the likes of
Kevin Keegan and Geoff Hurst would have to accept that
Shearer was a better player than them. Even Owen
would admit that Shearer would transform this England
attack from simply having potential to being as good
as anything likely to line up against them in Japan.
And that is no bold statement. Shearer is still razor
sharp and on the top of his form. He is as combative
and powerful as ever, can torment any defender in
England, and still exudes the type of authority and
leadership he displayed from 1996 to 2000. Moreover
he can still lead a line as well as any striker in the
world, and is braver in front of goal than most can
ever dream to be.
If Sheringham at 36 or Vassell and Jansen can be
considered worthy of pulling on an England shirt, then
surely the sublime Shearer deserves to return. He
would make a massive difference to this young squad,
giving leadership and removing some of the pressure
the injured Beckham and fragile Owen are going to be
under. But would he come back?
Shearer made his debut ten years ago against Michel
Platini's French team that had been on a long unbeaten
run in the build up to Euro 92. It was early in
Graham Taylor's eventually disastrous reign as England
manager, and Gary Lineker was still undisputed first
choice in attack. However Peter Beardsley was
starting to age, had been sold by Liverpool and was no
longer considered a 'good choice' to partner Lineker.
Many strikers were tried out - Alan Smith, David
Hirst, David White - but none took his chance like
Shearer did against France. Platini's team had been
built up as successors to the legendary 1984 vintage,
with Jean-Pierre Papin starring in an attacking unit
bolstered by Basile Boli and Jocelyn Angolma in
defence. The likes of David Ginola and Eric Cantona
blustered around on the sidelines, and the wins came.
France arrived at Wembley expecting victory, but were
beaten comfortably by an England team without Lineker,
for whom Shearer starred.
Shearer was only 22, but seemed to have all the
experience and temerity of a much older player. Euro
92 came too soon for him though, and although he made
the squad he featured only briefly in Gary Lineker's
supposed swansong. Once Lineker had retired to Japan,
Shearer might have expected a long run in the team,
but he was overlooked in favour of Ian Wright on more
than one occasion, especially as the increasingly
desperate Graham Taylor turned defensive once
England's 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign lay in
In fact it wasn't until Terry Venables took over as
England manager just before the 1994 finals that
Shearer became an automatic choice. Recovering from
the shock of non-qualification, England had the luxury
of hosting Euro 96, and therefore did not need to
worry about qualifying. This gave Venables time to
bed his team down, but a run of poor performances -
all played at Wembley - settled few nervous English
hearts. Indeed by the time Euro 96 came around
England, and Shearer, had hardly looked like
world-beaters at all for a very long time.
So trust Shearer to turn his international career and
England's whole international future around in the
space of three weeks. The tournament was one big
party for the English who, after a nervous opening
draw against Switzerland, demolished Scotland and
Holland in the space of four sweltering summer days.
Shearer had only scored five times for England before
the tournament, but now was on fire. He was
everywhere - full of skill and power, frustrating and
mesmerizing the opposing defenders in equal measure.
Along with Paul Gascoigne, Shearer made the tournament
his own, and once Spain were despatched on penalties
in the quarter finals, England met Germany at Wembley
in the semi-finals.
Shearer opened the scoring, typically powering home a
corner early in the first half. He seemed to be the
ultimate striker on the verge of true greatness, and
even though England would eventually succumb to the
Germans - but only on penalties - the whole nation
truly believed England could go on from this to
finally start challenging for the World Cup again.
Once the tournament was over Shearer joined Newcastle
for a world record £16 million transfer fee - he
epitomised the country's new found belief in itself
that was reclaiming football as something to be proud
in after the dark days of the 1980s. Qualification
for France 98 was never doubted, even when Italy beat
England at Wembley. Shearer was at the peak of his
powers, firing in goals for Newcastle at home and for
England across Europe. He seemed to inspire his
teammates to rise above their limitations to still be
in with a chance of automatic qualification in the
autumn of 1997, and they duly managed it, negating the
Italians in Rome to beat them at their own game and
beat them to the World Cup.
The problem Shearer had was that while he was world
class, those around him were not. Outside of the
injury wrecked Gascoigne and David Seaman, the English
players were either ageing and not really that good -
Paul Ince, Paul Merson, Les Ferdinand, Graeme Le Saux
- or like Owen, Scholes and Beckham were barely out of
their teens and had no experience of international
football. With hindsight, that they qualified and
committed themselves well was an achievement in
itself. Led by Shearer, England reached the second
round without much trouble, but because they had
sloppily lost to Romania they had to play Argentina.
This is yet another England match that has gone down
into legend, and although everyone knows the result,
the loss on penalties and Beckham's red card disguise
England's performance, which was easily on par with
the Argentinians. Incidentally - shooting off at a
tangent for a minute - Beckham's petulant sending off
and return four years later as captain bears a strong
resemblance to one Diego Armando Maradona in 1982 and
1986. What price the same eventual result?
Shearer was by then starting to suffer from the
perpetual problem all English heroes have once they
become successful. If they cannot keep on winning
they get 'knocked' in the press. Stories about
Shearer's temperament surfaced. He was too
aggressive, and had all the referees in his pocket
they said. He received unfair treatment and kept
players he did not like out of the England team. He
was 'Mary Poppins' they said - whatever that was
supposed to mean. Worse, he had the audacity to turn
down Manchester United - three times - a sure sign he
At a similar time he picked up a serious knee injury
that kept him out of action for the best part of a
year, while England deteriorated tactically under the
weak coaching of Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan. Even
after a rousing Euro 2000 playoff victory against
Scotland, the signs that Shearer was enjoying life
less were there for all to see. His club was grooming
him for management and TV work came pouring in as
Shearer got better in front of the camera. With all
the sniping he was receiving from the press and
Michael Owen taking his mantle as the English striker
the opposition feared most, Shearer made a few
decisions about his international future.
Euro 2000 was a bad tournament for England. They lost
to Portugal, unable to control Luis Figo. But against
Germany in the next match the real Shearer came back
for one last cameo appearance. It was a poor game,
with both sides hindered by old players and even older
coaching ideas, but no one in England cared much once
Shearer powered in one of his trademark headers and
sprinted off to celebrate with his famous one-arm
raised above him. Even the horrible performance
against Romania that eliminated England could hardly
take the gloss of this one victory - although
Shearer's announcement that he was retiring from
international football managed to do just that almost
Almost everyone thought he had retired too early. He
was only 29, and surely in his footballing prime? Why
go now, and not after the next World Cup? Shearer
never explained too much about it, he just quietly got
on with his job at Newcastle and became an analyst for
Sky whenever England played. And by the time
Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Kevin Keegan, and Owen,
Heskey, Scholes, Beckham and Gerrard had demolished
Germany in Munich, few in England even considered him
That is still the position today - and it is something
that amazes me. Sure Shearer is 'happily retired' but
would he - could he - say no if Eriksson made the
call? It would be the most unexpected call-up in the
history of English football, but it would win England
the World Cup. With Shearer and Owen up front, and
Beckham, Scholes and Gerrard picking off the passes
behind, England would have the best attack in the
whole tournament. They would beat Sweden, Nigeria and
Argentina because although they would still concede
goals, Shearer and Owen would score more than Heskey
and Owen or Sheringham and Fowler. And with that
extra impetus and confidence up front, England would
beat France, Italy, Brazil or Portugal later on as
But as I said right at the start, this is not going to
happen - unless of course Sven-Gordon has been reading
my mind and planning the greatest surprise in football
history all along. England are going to place all
their scoring hopes on Owen, and will dream that his
striking partners or the midfield can chip in as well.
To that end, it is more than likely that Trevor
Sinclair - a wide midfielder - will be called up.
Being an England fan I am sorry to say that I just
can't see that being enough. It is just a massive
shame that now England has a strong team, with a live
chance of doing well, the man that led the attack
through some harder times and is playing as well as
ever, is going to be sat at home watching it all
unfold on TV like me.
So if Sven really wants to win the World Cup he knows
what to do - and who to call.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.