Sweet Sheri Has No Time For Sceptics
Teddy`s career will roll on into Colchester in seven days, when he starts pre-season training. But, writes our regular columnist, the 41-year-old blue-chip boy won`t be running riot…
A printout of Teddy Sheringham`s career data reads more like a cricket score than soccer statistics, but as the striker waits to link up with his new Colchester team-mates in Britain`s oldest town, the figure causing most contention is his age. It is 41, not out.
He`s a carthorse then, more ready for his pipe and slippers than a kick about? Far from it. By committing himself as a part of United`s four-signing supermarket sweep last week, Sheringham decided to keep the old enemy of time guessing for at least another campaign.
Retirement seems almost an alien prospect to this man: "Even if I`d played a lot last year, I`d still want to play a lot this year", he said to those at his inaugural U`s press conference on Wednesday. "It`s no different. I don`t think it`ll have any bearing on what I want to do this year, or next year."
The problem for most elite competitors, it seems to me, is that stealth corrodes their physical abilities just when they seem to take them most for granted. Very few individuals are capable of turning the hindrance of an inevitable loss of speed into a unique advantage.
This is where Sheringham is an expectation; his heading skills and aptitude for hitting a football into that string bag on sticks remains strong, not least because pace had never really been a defining element of his game.
Since the scorer of an equalizing goal in the epic 1999 European Champions League Final victory for Manchester United still professes to love his daily job with "burning ambition," we can presume he is yet to reach that moment of epiphany which signals when the body and mind refuse to work in synthesis any longer.
As Sheringham put it: "The best athletes are in the top division, the best physical people are in the top division and the best players are in the top division.
"They say it`s harder to compete in the Championship week-in week-out, but when you are playing against the top players it is tough," he added. "It`s tough in any division, but that`s English football for you."
Spoken like a truly experienced professional. But Sheringham, who won 51 caps in the country`s St. George white, practically had to beat off questions about entering into management with a stick.
"I`ve been asked for about the last ten years of my career; what`s happening next," said the proud holder of every domestic honour in the English game.
A decade ago, though, Teddy`s medal collection was nowhere near as bedecked with gold as it is now. Rewind exactly to summer 1997 and the CV tells of a 31-year-old whose billing is as an inadequate £3.5 million replacement for Frenchman Eric Cantona in Manchester. The now sweet Sheri was yet to grace the World Cup stage.
Sure, he had formed an almost telepathic understanding with Alan Shearer internationally at Euro `96, and won individual honours like the Premiership Golden Boot, but legitimate cries to laud him as an icon of his generation would have to wait.
Wait until 1999, in fact, when Sheringham had reached mid-thirties and the point that most football folk consider as the last knockings of any career.
The Millennium bug manifested itself in his play that year, remaining long enough to allow him successful inheritance of football`s joie de vivre baton, first laid down at Old Trafford by Cantona.
But back to the present. The latest destination on this road-trip reel of Sheringham`s sporting story means he becomes, as manager Geraint Williams noted, Colchester United`s first ever signing with an MBE. At the same time, the Essex outfit maintain their historic status as a haven for stars of the ex-international variety.
Sheringham is not here simply to make up the order of merit on the team-sheet though. It`s lazy logic, also, to subscribe to a cheap theory that Teddy is a star intent only on replenishing the reportedly squandered wages he lost by gambling them away in card schools with West Ham.
Let`s be straight; this mutual agreement, spelt out in a one-year contract, between player and club does not represent a lifeline or act of desperation by either party.
Anyone in attendance on the media gantry at his unveiling could see, with what manager Geraint Williams called "honesty", that he has nothing to prove.
For the club`s standpoint, listen to Sheringham`s latest boss: "Teddy knows it will not be about him. Everyone knows his great reputation but he just wants to be one of the lads."
This debate ends definitively for now. Colchester United`s new blue-chip boy will not be running riot in the casino, no matter what his birth certificate, or a life spent in the limelight, might say.