Your moment of destiny, Al: Owen loss threatens heavy blow to Shearer
Alan Shearer will hope his weekend finishes better than it started after news emerged from Newcastle's training headquarters that Michael Owen is struggling to make Sunday's doomsday fixture with Aston Villa. Owen's injured groin is still 'tight', and so suddenly Shearer's task - of winning at Villa Park - promises to become a lot more demanding without the once prolific England striker in his team. If Owen fails to play - or even to make the bench - it will mean he bows out of his career at Newcastle at an all-time low, heading for a summer free transfer while his team may be heading for freefall. Injuries have blighted Owen's four years in the North East, but Shearer was hoping his captain and former striking partner would struggle over the start line against Villa. That is looking increasingly unlikely. Despite a scan revealing positive news to the Newcastle coaching staff earlier in the week, Owen was less positive after fitness work. 'He is struggling,' said a friend. 'It could be bad news. He is very distressed, because he so wants to play.' So at a quarter to four on Sunday, Alan Shearer will give the silent nod to Iain Dowie, who will reach over and switch off the ghetto blaster. Shearer will then stand up straight, surrounded by his seated, nervy players, walk into the middle of the away dressing room at Aston Villa, tense the muscles in his jaw and clear his throat. He will then take a deep breath and deliver an address on behalf of the entireGeordie nation, which is desperate to stay in the Premier League. There is no prepared speech. Shearer will speak from the heart. He will draw inspiration from the larger-than-life managers who have him on such occasions: Kenny Dalglish at Anfield before Blackburn won the title, Terry Venables on the eve of Euro 96 and Sir Bobby Robson at any time in the St James' Park dressing room. As his players stare nervously at their boots and stop the tapping of studs on the tiled floor, Shearer will know it his turn to inspire and motivate a disparate group who have been addressed by three other managers in one season. Newcastle boss Shearer stretches during training Shearer has tried to play down his role on Sunday - but he knows the importance of the message. And his players recognise the significance of the man delivering it. 'At the minute I haven't got a prepared speech,' he said. 'I probably won't say that much to be honest. We're all aware of the stakes and I won't have to motivate the players for this game, put it that way. 'The manager's role is always important. It's not difficult to know how we set up at the start because we have to win the game. Villa are not on a great run but I've got an important role to play. And so have the players. 'Iain Dowie said to me, "Now I know why you turned Man United down". Coming up here, listening to the people, looking at the people, seeing what it means to them, seeing the size of the club. I think he fully appreciates the size this club is. 'I know what this club is, what it means to the people. You know what it means to me. That is why I came back.' His opposite number Martin O'Neill has worked with Shearer in the BBC studios and the Villa boss believes Shearer has the X-factor to become a serious player in the management game. O'Neill says he understands what it would mean for the former England international to lead them to safety and believes that his onetime TV colleague is capable of bringing out extra from his players. O'Neill and Shearer shared a couch together during the 2006 World Cup in Germany and O'Neill admits that his opposite number has sufficient nous to make a difference in the minutes leading up to the final-day showdown. He said: 'You, as a manager, can affect things all week. And if you don't have an effect with 15 minutes to kick-off, what's the point of the club employing one? 'Initially, it was a short-term galvanising effect that they were looking for. You can do that to the players, the club and the crowd. He's definitely galvanised the crowd. 'He has given them the lift they were looking for. He would have been hoping after that Middlesbrough result that they kicked on against Fulham. But he understands that football isn't like that.' As a player, Shearer was never afraid to speak his mind on such occasions and to ensure that players who would rather gaze at the floor would walk out of a Newcastle changing room with heads held high. But it is different now he is the manager. Shearer's life has beenovertaken by this desperate rescue bid and every waking moment of everyday, the club's iconic No 9 is engulfed with the importance of the taskhe took on two months ago. Shearer and assistant manager Iain Dowie suffered on the sidelines as Newcastle lost to Fulham last weekend Shearer has become a stranger in his own home, missing his kids before they head to school and finding them tucked up in bed when he returns home. Not that he can escape his son William's views on the state of their club. Like every good Geordie, Shearer Jnr has had plenty to say. 'He just tells me what team to pick,' said the manager. 'And I might be better off listening to him, judging by our results ... and I said that before anyone else did.' Whatever the outcome of Survival Sunday, Shearer knows the first question he will face in the aftermath will surround his own future and the possibility of taking the Newcastle job full-time. He is not prepared to answer that question yet, but has clearly held talks with owner Mike Ashley over that possibility, as well as, crucially, the finances that will be available to make it worthwhile. Shearer has put plans in place for the club's future no matter who is in charge. He has set new standards and expects those to stand whether Newcastle are a Premier League or Championship club. 'We will talk about the future after the game,' he said. 'My future is not important. What is important is the club, not individuals. 'I was asked to come in and do my best for the club. I know you will look at it and think I have done things which are long term, but that is right because I've been employed to do what is best for the club and make changes which I feel are best at this particular time and going forward. 'We all know the implications of going down. I know, the players know, people around the city know what it means for this club to be in the Premier League. It is massive.'
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