Shearer in at the deep end

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NEWCASTLE, April 3, 2009 (AFP) – Five years ago this month Alan Shearer scored his 173rd goal for Newcastle United as the Magpies defeated Chelsea 2-1 and edged closer to a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League.

ALAN_SHEARERFast forward to 2009 and a repeat result might just lift the troubled St James’ Park club to fifth bottom but the club’s all-time leading goalscorer must now rely on others to score the goals which matter.

Long since retired as a player, and with eight league fixtures remaining to save Newcastle’s top flight status, the former England captain welcomes Chelsea to Tyneside as a rookie manager looking to guide his hometown team to safety.

It would be a tall order for even the most experienced of coaches. Yet, unlike Saturday’s opposite number Guus Hiddink, Shearer has no managerial experience whatsoever.

Whereas Chelsea’s celebrated coach has six Dutch league titles and two fourth-place finishes at the World Cup under his belt, Newcastle’s fourth manager this season has yet to acquire his UEFA Pro Licence.

It is a contrast not lost on the iconic figure appointed to save United from relegation in the absence of Joe Kinnear, the erstwhile Mgapies’ manager forced to take a temporary leave of absence following heart surgery.

"I don’t have the experience but I’ll have to learn pretty quickly," admitted Newcastle’s record goalscorer.

"I’ll speak to Kevin (Keegan), I’ll speak to Kenny (Dalglish), I’ll speak to Bobby (Robson), I’ll speak to Terry (Venables) and speak to Glenn Hoddle and then we’ll see after that. I think it’s important I tap into all the experience I can. I’m going to need it."

After all of those telephone conversations Shearer will also need to find the time to pick a team to face a Chelsea side suddenly back in the hunt for the Premier League title.

He also needs time to adjust to life as the man behind the team and behind the scenes, rather than the high profile individual who, for so many years, was revered as the heartbeat of a Newcastle squad which briefly flirted with Champions League football and title challenges.

Shearer’s reputation as a United legend is untarnished for now – but what price his stock falling dramatically should this unforeseen experiment with management go horribly wrong?

"How this job will affect my own reputation is a question I’d like to stay away from," he added. "It’s getting me involved in the whole thing again and I must stress this is about Newcastle United and not Alan Shearer. I had a reputation as a player and now that’s gone.

"I’m moving onto something different. I’ll be judged over the next eight games as every single manager is. Whether you like it or not, whether it’s good, bad, pretty, ugly – in football you’re judged on results. "And I’ll be no different. I’ve not come into this with my eyes shut. I know what the stakes are."

The stakes are incredibly high and the price of failure, both for Shearer and Newcastle United, cannot be judged in terms simply of finance.

Reputations, as well as fortunes, are on the line but at least the Magpies’ latest boss looks set to include former England team-mate Michael Owen on his first team sheet following the striker’s successful return to full training.

"Michael was one of the players I spoke to on my first morning and you’d expect that I would speak to the captain of this club," said Shearer.

"If he’s fit he will start against Chelsea. It’s well known that he’s had his fair share of injuries but his goalscoring record is fabulous.

"I think a club in this position needs goals. We’ve got a great goalscorer here to get them."

For Chelsea, the Shearer factor is something the Londoners could have done without having hauled themselves back into title contention – or at least gained from Manchester United’s recent lapses.

"It will be a lot harder for us now," said Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard.

"You can imagine the atmosphere up there – Shearer is a god to Newcastle fans and rightly so. I’m sure he’ll get the fans going and the players going."

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