Shearer sees a link between EPL and ISL

“I realise ISL is No. 2 to cricket at the moment. It would always be that way. But that doesn’t mean that football cannot grow, get bigger and become more exciting. The ISL can get bigger with bigger names and get more people interested in it,” says the former England striker Alan Shearer.

England football legend Alan Shearer poses beside the Premier League trophy in Mumbai.   -  PTI

Alan Shearer was one of the prominent players to have played in the inaugural edition of the English Premier League (EPL) that has attracted worldwide attention since its inception in 1992. It is in the EPL that the former England striker had scored a record 260 goals, playing for Southampton, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. He had altogether played 533 matches.

Shearer, who had also played in the FA Cup, League Cup and other matches, overall earned in excess of GBP 18 million.

He started as a trainee at Southampton though. Shearer, capped by England 63 times, had scored 30 goals. He is in the sixth place among the top goal-scorers for England, behind Wayne Rooney (60), Bobby Charlton (49), Gary Lineker (48), Jimmy Greaves (44) and Michael Owen (40).

When Sportstar asked Shearer how EPL can help develop Indian football, he said: “It would benefit if Clubs could come to India for pre-season and play a match, and this is one of the reasons why we are here... to try and share our experience from the start of 1992. The EPL has been through a lot and it has grown every single year. When I signed for Blackburn in 1992 and when I went to Newcastle in 1996 as the world’s most expensive player (GBP 15 million transfer), I thought there won’t be a bigger time to be a footballer. I was proved wrong because it keeps on getting bigger and bigger. It would continue to, because of the interest for EPL around the world. And that’s what we are trying to share here.”

Excerpts:

Question: What brings you to India?

Answer: The English Premier League, to help try and link the Indian Super League, the Football Movement Conference and work with STAR Sports for one of the matches. I have never been here before, and I am excited.

How much of the ISL have you seen?

I have not seen a great deal of it, but I have heard a lot about the ISL. I am here to share the experiences of our league (EPL) which started in 1992, of which I was a part from the first day. From then to now, we had some great times.

Some say that the ISL is still a promotional event, all the matches packed in about two months...

I realise it is No. 2 to cricket at the moment. It would always be that way. But that doesn’t mean that football cannot grow, get bigger and become more exciting. The ISL can get bigger with bigger names and get more people interested in it. Whether football can challenge cricket is a different matter.

It’s been 50 years since England won the World Cup. When is football likely to see the ‘Wembley Moment of 1966’, the ‘Bobby Moore Moment’, the ‘Bobby Charlton Moment’, the ‘Geoff Hurst Moment’ or the ‘Gordon Banks Moment’? England has not won any major title since the World Cup of 1966...

I hope it happens in my lifetime. I want to be around when England wins the next World Cup. If I am honest, I don’t see it happening in the near future. The next World Cup is in Russia in 2018. I don’t see it (England winning) happening there because I don’t think we have the players to win it as yet.

But we have had some near misses…1986 was very close, while we were in front against Argentina in the quarterfinals. Then we were in the semifinals at Italy 1990; we were beaten on penalties by Germany.

Otherwise there has not been much to shout about as an England fan. We just have not been good enough. We cannot beat about the bush and say we have been unlucky all these years. We might have been unlucky in one or two tournaments, but for the vast majority we have not been good enough.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte watches the proceedings of a Premier League game against Burnley.   -  REUTERS

Is it because England has not had an Alf Ramsey or a Bobby Robson? Or is it because of the lack of quality players?

I think it’s the players. I was fortunate to have Bobby Robson at Newcastle United for a number of years. He was an excellent coach. His knowledge of football was superb. He was heavily criticised when he was the England manager. We had Terry Venables (1994-1996). Terry was probably the best England manager I had played under. So we have had very good managers. Glenn Hoddle (1996-1999) I thought was excellent. As I said, we cannot use excuses. The simple fact of the matter is that in a lot of tournaments we have not come up to the standard to be good enough.

The top EPL teams don’t have England-born coaches, almost all are from Europe...

It’s not happening because England’s young coaches do not get the opportunity; they don’t get enough opportunities. We have them sprinkled around. We have (Sean) Dyche at Burnley FC. He has been very good for that particular football club. But I think it’s very unlikely that he would be given an opportunity by one of the bigger football clubs. He’s not a fashionable name and he’s not a foreign manager. The bigger clubs prefer to go with bigger and experienced managers; and that’s understandable. But there are not enough English coaches being given the chance to manage football clubs. You don’t get time to build… the average time of a manager is something like 18 months in the job. If you are not winning games or successful then you have not got time to plan from the youth system, from the reserves to the first team. Everything is basically focused on the first team and if you don’t get that right, you are out.

There are more than a dozen good leagues in the world. Why is EPL deemed the best?

Standard-wise, it might not be the best, but as a whole package — as in stadiums, as in fans, as in the excitement of the matches, as to who it goes to and where it goes globally — it is the best. As a whole package, without doubt, it’s the best in the world. We have the biggest managers in the world, obviously some of the (biggest) players, and so when you put all that together, then I believe the EPL is the best.

Are you trying to say that the kind of football Real Madrid and FC Barcelona play is better than what one can see in the EPL?

Not necessarily. I am just saying standard-wise, which is probably one of the reasons there are a lot of foreign players in the league. And I am not saying that’s wrong because some of the foreign players have taken our game to a different level. But what it also actually does is slowing down the growth and the development of young (home) players; they are not getting the opportunities in their first team as they should be.

There have been reports of young European talent forming a big percentage of the academy teams of the clubs? Is England concerned about it?

Yes, English football is not producing enough young players. And because they have not been given opportunities, when you go to the transfer market in England, a foreign player will be cheaper than a British player. So the easier option is to go and sign a foreign player with equal ability. Then if the manager has signed him, he has got to play him rather than promote the youth of the country. You cannot put too many youngsters in your team with experienced players; managers cannot gamble at times because he will lose his job.

How would you sum up the ongoing EPL season?

I don’t see anyone catching up with Chelsea. It has been by far the most consistent team, the best team. It has been very solid defensively. It has (Eden) Hazard and(Diego) Costa. Pedro has been much better this season. Willian has been good when given the opportunities. And there is no European football for Chelsea which has helped the team. When Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Arsenal have been playing, there was European football in the week.

So it should be two titles in three seasons for Chelsea? What is your assessment of the Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte?

Conte took over a team that’s been affected by the previous manager. They haven’t played for him that’s why (Jose) Mourinho was sacked. So Conte took over the nucleus of the team with some very good players. He added three or four good players and got them to play the way he wanted them to, as in his system. He changed it from a four at the back in the early part of the season to 3-4-3 and from then onwards the team has not looked back. He has been very successful. And everyone looks comfortable in that system, and the players who were brilliant two years ago are back to playing the way they did two years ago; they are back to enjoying their football and scoring goals. They are looking good. Chelsea has been the best team.

Conte built a reputation for winning at Juventus...

Absolutely. He has the winning mentality. He has won trophies before, and so he’s experienced and doing an excellent job.

What about the other Italian, Claudio Ranieri, who was sacked by Leicester City?

He scripted the biggest and the most unlikely story at Leicester City. When one considers where they were when he took over, for them to achieve what they did was staggering. He had a group of players that not all teams wanted; a lot of them were journeymen and to take them to the top of the league and to win the league was just incredible. So I felt that he should have been given a longer opportunity to try and turn Leicester around this year. But I didn’t want the club to sack him when you understand that the players were not working for him. I saw it through months ago — players were not running as much, not putting as much effort and not doing as much as they did in the last season. I saw that. And if we needed any reminder then you have to look at the match against Liverpool. (Leicester beat Liverpool 3-1 in the match.) They ran and sprinted further which tells you they were not with him.

Something has gone on in the dressing room that we are not party to…the players and the manager had fallen off for whatever reason. We don’t know why. It was plainly obvious, that was the case and one has to look at their performance against Liverpool.

Do you think Leicester will avoid relegation?

Yes, I do. I think they have enough to survive.

How would you compare Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho? The focus has always been on them...

We have some of the biggest names and managers in the EPL. What it also says is as a manager… it happened to Mourinho in the last season when he fell out with his players. Hazard and Costa were not playing for him. If it can happen to one of the best managers in the world, one of the most successful managers in the world, then it can happen to anyone. So what it says is, you cannot fall out with your players. You have to keep the players on your side.

What do you think of the Chinese League? What shape will it take in the long term?

It would be difficult to sustain with the amount of money they are actually paying. I am still to see where the endgame is. I think it’s great that the game has progressed and got bigger and better, but I would struggle to find out where the endgame is, considering the kind of salaries they are paying to some of the players.

The ISL here has had overseas players; they were coming to India when their careers were at an end, but what China is doing is, taking players at the peak of their careers, which is the reason they have to pay so much money.

Newcastle is at the top of the Championship...

Well I hope it’s not too long before it gets into the EPL. We have a very good manager there in Benitez. I hope they back him.

Blackburn is not in great shape though?

It’s sad for me to see them this way, when you think that we won the League in 1994-95. To look at that team and compare where they are now, it’s not nice. It’s a very good football club, lovely area, nice people, and I hope it’s not long before their problems are sorted out.

EPL is no longer about Manchester United. Six clubs have won the title already...

That’s the difference from what it was 10 years ago. Only two or three clubs could have won the Premier League. Now probably six teams can win, which is great for the competition, great for attracting bigger and better players to the league and also attracting big managers. The competition is a big plus for the league.

Your comments on FIFA’s decision to have 48 teams for the World Cup, beginning 2026? FIFA expects a revenue of USD 1 billion plus more profit...

It’s all for finance. It’s for more money. I don’t think it will improve the standard of many teams that would struggle anyway. I don’t agree with 16 more teams in the World Cup finals. Teams should earn the right to be there at the finals and they are the best teams there.