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Alan Shearer’s long reign at the top

The Premier League’s record goalscorer talks about longevity and what makes a great striker

'The role of the centre forward is exactly the same as when football was invented. You have to score goals,' says Alan Shearer
'The role of the centre forward is exactly the same as when football was invented. You have to score goals,' says Alan Shearer

When Sergio Agüero netted his 16th goal of the 2019-20 Premier League (PL) season against Sheffield United in January, he took his total tally of goals in the league to 180. That put the Manchester City striker in fourth place on the all-time scorers’ list, making him one of the favourites to break the record of most goals in the English league—albeit a distant possibility.

But the man on top, Alan Shearer, who scored 260 goals in the Premier League, is hoping that does not happen soon. “I hope not," says the soon-to-be 50-year-old former Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers striker. “All records are supposed to be broken and every record will be broken one day. But I hope not for a while because I am very proud (of this) and enjoy it," says the soon-to-be 50-year-old former Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers striker.

In Mumbai recently for the Next Generation Mumbai Cup, a collaboration between the Indian Super League (ISL) and the Premier League, Shearer believes his tally of PL goals is getting increasingly difficult to overtake.

“I had three serious operations in my career, so I missed three years of football," says Shearer, who works as a television pundit these days. “If you go through your career without one injury—(which is rare) because of the number of games one plays and the pace of game currently—then you have been a lucky boy. There are a lot of foreign players in our league and they don’t tend to stay on for 10-15 years. It would be difficult, but someone would do it."

Argentina’s Agüero is the only non-English player in the top 5 of all-time PL scorers, with Shearer at No. 1, followed by Wayne Rooney (208 goals), Andrew Cole (187) and Frank Lampard (177). Among the other current players who could possibly take a crack at Shearer’s tally is Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, who is still a fair distance away with 136 goals.

“Kane has the best opportunity, if he stays in the PL, and I hope he does. I know he is injured at the moment. Agüero is having another fantastic season with goals but is on the other side of 30 now. It would be unfair to name youngsters starting off in the game," says Shearer.

Shearer played 441 games over 14 seasons—with an average of 0.59 goals per game—before an injury ended his career at age 35. Agüero has 261 appearances over nine seasons, with a better strike rate of 0.69 goals per match, but he is 31 and the clock has started ticking on his career.

Shearer played his last game in 2006 and no one has even come close to his record. Only Rooney has managed to get past the 200 mark. Although Shearer finds it unfair to compare players across generations, he believes that a great striker from 30 years ago would be a great striker now and vice versa. “Agüero could have played in the 1970s or 1980s. That’s what great players do—find a way to do what they are best at," he says.

According to him, the role of a striker has never changed in football. “The role of the centre forward is exactly the same as when football was invented. You have to score goals. You name the greatest forwards of all-time—Pelé, (Lionel) Messi, (Cristiano) Ronaldo, Ian Rush, (Gary) Lineker, Kane, myself… you have to score goals. All top centre forwards have that one thing in common."

The structure of play has changed a bit though, he adds. If he was a centre forward running straight down the middle, at Liverpool this season, none of their top 3 scorers—Mohamed Salah (15 goals), Sadio Mané (13) and Roberto Firmino (8)—are necessarily “centre forwards".

He does not believe that the mentality of a centre forward is any different from that of a midfielder or a goalkeeper. “To be a professional footballer," says Shearer, who started his career at Southampton, “you need to have a tough mentality and a great attitude. To get to the top in any form of life, sport or business, you need work ethic. Whatever you get, you have to work for it, earn it. That’s the difference between good and great players, the attitude."

Shearer suffered a ruptured ligament in 1992, when he was 21 and at the beginning of his career. But he believes he always had the mental strength to get back—one of the prerequisites for a long career in sport. “There is always a nagging doubt in your mind, whether you would be as good as you were before the injury," he says. “There is a long, long road ahead of you when you are out training on your own, training with the physiotherapist, away from the squad. It can be tough, but if you persist, after three-four months, you will see a light at the end of the tunnel."

It’s a similar kind of mentality—and persistence—that has taken Liverpool to the verge of winning the Premier League this season, Shearer believes. He credits their attitude and desire (for the title) for being 25 points clear of the second-placed team, Manchester City, and losing just one in 29 matches this season.

“When everyone is trying to beat you, to keep coming back at it every week…the game against West Ham (in which Liverpool trailed 1-2 before winning 3-2 with an 81st minute goal on 24 February) was a great example of what Liverpool are like—they would not have won that game (had it been played) last season or the season before. Because such is the mentality and drive to get this season done," he says.

He is trying not to make a big deal out of turning 50—in August. “What is a big deal is how quickly it goes. I have been retired for 15-16 years now and it (time) goes likes that."

Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based journalist who covers sports, business leaders and lifestyle.

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