The Premier League is set to award a multitude of honours celebrating 20 years of the greatest league in the world. One of the awards is set to go to the Premier League’s best player over the course of its existence, and so we thought it would be fun to carry out our very own The North East HUB Blog award for the very best of the best in recognition of some of the outstanding talents to have graced North East football.
It wouldn’t be fair to just award one player the accolade, and would no doubt cause debate about how and why this player was greater than X, Y or Z player from another club, so instead I’ve awarded a player from Newcastle United, Sunderland and Middlesbrough as the greatest to play for their club, whilst leaving the debate of an overall winner to the fans of each club.
The awards will be split over three separate articles to ensure each player gets the space they deserve – this week we take a look at Newcastle United and the winner of their greatest player of the Premier League era award.
Newcastle United – Alan Shearer
There’s no surprise that Newcastle’s favourite son wins the award, his legendary status earned through his great passion and commitment to the club he loves, his goal scoring prowess cementing him as one of the greatest number nine’s in English football history, and rightfully earning him the status of greatest Newcastle United player of the Premier League era.
Shearer started his career at Southampton where he became the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the top division at 17 years and 240 days old, however despite showing the strength and desire to bully defenders his overall scoring record didn’t show promise of the thirty goal a season striker we remember Shearer being – averaging just a goal every four games.
However his overall game was enough to warrant a British record transfer fee and a switch to Blackburn Rovers in 1992, where despite missing half the season with a snapped anterior cruciate ligament Shearer bagged 16 goals in 21 appearances, justifying the money spent and showing the eye for goal which he became so well known for throughout the rest of his career.
The following season he scored 31 goals in 40 games, helping Blackburn to the runners up spot in the Premier League whilst also receiving the Football Writer’s Association Footballer of the Year award. However it was the following season and the arrival of Chris Sutton that helped Shearer to his first and only winners medal – The Premier League title. Shearer and Sutton formed a formidable partnership dubbed SAS (Shearer and Sutton) with the former scoring 34 of the 49 goals the pair contributed to their title winning season.
The next season Shearer completed a hat-trick of thirty plus goal scoring seasons contributing 31 goals in 35 games, but it wasn’t enough to stop Blackburn finishing a disappointing seventh, and it spelled the end of a brief but successful period at the Lancashire club – the call of the Toon Army was drawing him home (despite interest from Manchester United), and it was another of the Newcastle legends Kevin Keegan who persuaded Shearer to sign for the club he supported, in what was for the second time a British transfer record.
The rest as they say is history. Shearer not only came to his boyhood club but brought goals, passion and pride with him. Unfortunately he never won a major honour with the club, but there’s no better example of a player bleeding his club’s colours than Shearer, and despite many ups and downs in his Newcastle United career he never looked to move on in search of silverware, always believing that he could inspire his team to greatness – and he nearly succeeded on a few occasions. In fact his first season in the hallowed black and white shirt saw him score a total of 25 goals in 31 games helping Newcastle United to second in the Premier League.
Unfortunately in his second season an ankle ligament injury limited him to just 17 appearances and a meagre two goals, yet despite his limited playing time Shearer bagged the winner against Sheffield United and sent the Toon Army to Wembley, however once again a runners up medal was all he had to show for his efforts.
Whilst staying relatively injury free the following season Shearer’s 14 goals in 30 league games could only help Newcastle finish a lowly 14th, however a place at Wembley and a second successive FA Cup final gave Shearer hope of adding to his title winners medal. It wasn’t to be though, and the pattern of failing at the final hurdle was repeated for a second successive season as the Magpies were beaten 2-0 by Manchester United.
Sadly this was to be the last time Shearer would come within a whisker of picking up silverware in his Newcastle United career, yet he still gave the Toon Army some memorable moments that will live in Newcastle folklore for ever – the hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen and a brace against Inter Milan in the Champions League, the stunning volley against Everton, the rift with Ruud Gullit that saw the Dutchman sacked, his six goals helping the club to a UEFA Cup Semi final, and even taking to the helm as manager for a brief stint.
What Shearer will be remembered the most for though is his explosiveness in and around the box, wrongly labelled sometimes as ‘an old fashioned centre forward’ he could score from anywhere – inside the box, outside the box, with his head, with his right or left foot, sometimes with precision and sometimes with brute force. Shearer had it all and it’s no surprise that with 260 goals to his name he’s still the Premier League’s all time top scorer. When you look at the company he kept in the likes of Thierry Henry it’s testament to Shearer just how good he really was.
Add loyalty, leadership, an enigmatic and talismanic personality, and above all else being deadly in front of goal, and not only does Shearer rightly earn the honour of ‘greatest Newcastle United player of the Premier League era’, but should rightly be considered as one of the best to have graced the top flight in the last twenty years.
Next week: Sunderland
Many thanks to Gary Marriner who supplied a great pic for this article