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 Red11 REDitorial

Published: 28 FEB 2005

by John Ryan

Loyalty is a rare thing in English football and although English football often shows a lot more honesty that it's European counterparts, loyalty has not been displayed in abundance since the inception of the Premiership. With the Bosman ruling influencing almost every players decision from a year before his contract runs out, the incentive to move to a club paying the best wages is huge. Manchester United though stand out as a club where loyalty is paramount, preached by the manager and practiced by the majority of the players. But does loyalty necessarily result in silverware with the club you are loyal to? Certainly there is much to compare & contrast about the loyalty shown by two of the Premierships top players, Roy Keane and Alan Shearer.

Both Keane and Shearer have moved between Premiership clubs in their careers with transfer fees amounting to over 20M Considering these moves were before the top Premiership clubs began paying the mega-bucks now associated with Premiership football, their transfer fees were a sign of their worth long term. Both have suffered cruciate ligament injuries that kept them out for more than a year at a time but as per their winning mentality both spent those long lonely hours in the gym that restored them to the great powerhouses they are. On the field they've clashed on numerous occasions, the most notable was when Keane threw a punch at Shearer in the Autumn of 2001 as United of the Newcastle variety beat Manchester United 4-3. Internationally both have excelled for their respective countries. Keane, a born leader captained Ireland to some of their best displays, such as the win over Holland in September 2001. Shearer led the line for his country in glorious wins such as that over England's "old enemy" Germany in Euro2000. At the end of the 2001-02 season Sky Sports ran a poll among all of the players who had played in the first ten seasons of the Premier League. Each player was asked who he thought had been the Premierships best player since it was formed in 1992. Roy Keane's vote went to Alan Shearer. Alan Shearer voted for Roy Keane.

As a player Keane freely admits that he does not possess the skills of Zinedine Zidane or the trickery of players like Figo or Giggs. As a young player with Rockmount & Cobh in Co. Cork he realised that he had to work harder at his game than other players who had skill in abundance. The hard work brought him to the attention of Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest and after making his debut at Anfield, Keane served Forest very well, playing in an FA Cup final and a League Cup final, unfortunately losing both. As Forest suffered relegation in 1993 Keane was quick to point out how he felt the club had not being helped by some of the players on Forest's books. He commented how many of the players laughed & joked in the showers 15 minutes after defeat to Sheffield United, the game that condemned Forest to life in division 1. As a winner, Keane could not understand this. Fortunately for him, by now he was hot property and although Blackburn & Arsenal both offered him more money than Manchester United did, he moved to United for footballing reasons and that will to win. Six thousand pounds a week and the promise of winning silverware was enough to make him sign on for life at Old Trafford. United got a bargain at 3.75M.

Alan Shearer first came to prominence at Southampton where his goalscoring record made him a top transfer target for a number of Premiership clubs. Alex Ferguson tried to sign him but Shearer chose to join Kenny Dalglish & Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 1992. In his first season Shearer showed why Blackburn had paid 3.3M to secure his services. Fifteen goals in his first fourteen Premiership games was sheer class, but it would be two seasons before Shearer would win his one & only Premiership medal of his career. Blackburn did press United hard for the 1994 championship, at one stage being 16 points behind, before cutting the gap to an uneasy margin but United ran out double winners in the end. In 1995 though it was a different story and after forging a lethal partnership with Chris Sutton, Blackburn were crowned champions. A disappointing season in Europe followed, and by the summer of 1996 Shearer was ready to leave Ewood Park. But what club would be hanging his shirt on their home dressing room pegs the year after?

Kevin Keegan is not noted for his brilliant signings and some of his transfers were questionable to say the least. Selling 23 year old Andy Cole and later buying 28 year old Les Ferdinand did not smack of wisdom, but the capture of Shearer must go down as his greatest ever transfer. Newcastle United has lost a massive lead in the 1996 title race & eventually lost to Ferguson & United. Keegan decided to act as though he meant business and although he paid a world record 15M for Shearer, few will argue as to the players worth. The local lad was going home to his beloved following, but it did not start as planned. Manchester United crushed Newcastle 4-0 in the Charity shield and Shearer and Ferdinand struggled to adapt to their new partnership. By the time the two sides met again in the Premiership, things could not have been more different. Every Manchester United fan will remember Shearer scoring in that 5-0 defeat and running towards the United fans, goading them with an unfamiliar celebration. Shearer had the opportunity to join United but decided to go home. At that point it was looking a very wise decision.

Maybe in that 96/97 season the comparisons between Keane & Shearer began to turn into contrasts. Ferguson led United to another title and Keane won his third Premiership medal to go along with his two FA Cup medals. Newcastle finished second and made it into the expanded Champions League. The following season both sides ended up as runners up to Arsenal - United in the Premiership and Newcastle United in the FA Cup. Newcastle seemed to go from manager to manager with Keegan, Dalglish & Gullitt all trying their hand at turning the Toon army into World beaters. While Ferguson was urging Keane on in his re-habilitation that would see him spearhead a treble campaign, Shearer was at war with Gullitt. As the two failed to get on, inevitably Shearer was dropped. In turn this led to Newcastle sacking Gullitt. When Manchester United met Newcastle in the 1999 FA Cup final, the contrast between Keane & Shearer was at its most evident. Keane the player who had decided to stay with United rather than take the lure of the lira or pesetas that were on offer, led his side up the winners steps. Shearer led the polite applause as Keane lifted the cup aloft.

In the years since then, Keane has gone on to greater glory while the same problems have dogged Shearer's Newcastle career. Keane led United to a 3-in-a-row of Premiership titles in 2001 along with another FA Cup in 2004. Shearer has played under another 2 managers since then at Newcastle - Bobby Robson and Graeme Souness. After losing out to Arsenal in 2002 United returned to their spot as champions in 2003 with Keane pivotal to that success. In international terms, Shearer retired from the England set up after Euro2000 aged just 30. Keane set his sights on the 2002 World Cup in Japan & Korea, but never kicked a ball there after falling out with Mick McCarthy. Since he moved to Blackburn, Alan Shearer has played for more than ten different Managers at club & international level. Since he moved to England, Roy Keane has played for just five, two at club level and three at International level. Having worked with two of English football's greatest Managers, one wonders did Keane have a huge advantage over Shearer in this respect? Certainly the only Managers from Shearer's career that could even think of being genuine rivals to Clough & Ferguson would be Dalglish & Bobby Robson.

It could have all been so different for Alan Shearer's career had he chosen Manchester United was back in the summer of 1992. Prior to that Manchester United were crying out for a talisman, a player who could guarantee 20 league goals a season, the genuine article in the finishing stakes. Since then, Manchester United fans have been thrilled with the legendary Cantona, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and the brilliant Ruud Van Nistelrooy. And there's one player that may never have ended up at Old Trafford had Ferguson landed Shearer in 1996. A player that cost a tenth of Shearer's Newcastle fee, who was plucked from Norway and was top scorer in his first season at United. A player who scored the winning goal on arguably Ferguson & United's greatest night of all: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Keane and Shearer at this point are probably the two greatest players seen in the Premiership in terms of their consistency year after year. Shearer chose to show loyalty to his hometown club and one has to admire that. Keane's loyalty to United has been unquestionable. Currently in his twelfth season at Old Trafford the return on the investment in him mocks the transfer fee paid for him. One wonders what Shearer, Keane & United could have achieved together. Shearer's desire for goals blended with Keane's hunger for success would have been a mouth-watering prospect. It's just a pity, from Shearer's perspective at least, that for these 2 loyal servants to Newcastle United & Manchester United, that the silverware all went down the same route. Within the next two to three seasons Roy Keane will retire with a glittering array of medals. This summer, Alan Shearer intends to call full time on his career. He has one medal from a career in which he gave so much. Manchester United fans will have little sympathy.

John Ryan
Copyright 2005 Red11. All rights reserved.
Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.

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