IT WAS always a neat trick, but we had not seen him perform it
for a while. Then, on Saturday, in the manner of a street-corner
magician pulling a coin from behind his ear, Teddy Sheringham
showed us once more how the slowest man on the pitch can stay a
light year ahead of his pursuers.
When he plays like this, he is
guile personified. The way he moves, the runs he makes, the
deep-lying positions he takes up, the manner in which he appears
unannounced in the box, spread confusion in defenders who cannot
cope with his elegant unorthodoxy.
In the way he performed on
Saturday, exposing the mediocrity of the opposition, Kevin
Keegan would be foolish to ignore him when he is considering the
England squad for the European championship qualifying ties
against Sweden and Bulgaria next month.
Only two people got close to
him all afternoon. The first was Martin Edwards, the Manchester
United chairman, who leant down from the front row of the Royal
Box and whispered in his ear as Sheringham collected his second
winners' medal in seven days. The second was his son, Charlie,
who flung himself into his father's arms in the Wembley tunnel
in the post-game euphoria. Sheringham gave him a kiss and handed
him the magnum of champagne that goes with being named man of
Suddenly, after a club career
spent toiling in under-achieving teams, after a season when it
seemed that he had been cast into the wilderness of United's
star-studded reserve team, he has found himself festooned with
This time, there could be no
sneering about the extent of his contribution. He had been taken
off at half-time in the victory against Tottenham Hotspur that
clinched United's fifth league championship in seven years the
previous weekend. This Saturday, though, it was Sheringham,
incontrovertibly, who emphasised the gulf in class between the
champions and Newcastle United, Sheringham who led their jaunty
stroll towards a triumph in the FA Cup Final that made them the
first side ever to win three League and Cup Doubles.
United were vastly superior in
every department to a Newcastle side that looked as limited and
as depressingly impotent as 12 months ago, when they succumbed
to Arsenal at the same stage of the competition, when Kenny
Dalglish was still manager.
There were hopes that the
arrival of Ruud Gullit and the beginnings of a revival that he
has effected might have made this more of an even contest, but
those hopes were dashed within two minutes of Sheringham rising
from the bench in the ninth minute to replace the stricken Roy
He started the move that led to
United's opening goal, intercepting a pass from Andy Cole that
was meant for Ryan Giggs and then slipping the ball through the
legs of Dietmar Hamann. He played a short ball to Paul Scholes,
who feinted to shoot and passed back to him and Sheringham
clipped his shot through the legs of Steve Harper.
United never looked like ceding
control after that. Newcastle, who for some inexplicable reason
had been confident before the game to the point of a cockiness
that riled some of the United players, were a shambles,
particularly in defence where Laurent Charvet looked horribly
out of his depth.
In attack, the performance of
Alan Shearer raised more questions about his effectiveness. It
would be foolish to say that he is finished. But it was sad to
see him reduced to trying to bludgeon, barge and hold his way
past Ronny Johnsen and David May, without success.
He does not receive anything
like the service he deserves, of course, but he has lost a yard
or two of pace and a bucketful of confidence. If he is not
finished, then he is still far from the player he used to be.
The only player in the side who
possesses enough class to be part of a successful FA Carling
Premiership side is Hamann and he was forced to go off at
half-time suffering from a dead leg. After that, the Newcastle
centre forward was isolated. "Let's all laugh at
Shearer," the United fans sang.
So Newcastle offered no threat
to speak of and it was left to Sheringham to finish them off. It
was far from a vintage performance which was what we had
expected with the European Cup final four days away, but when
they did produce the invasive, defence-splitting one-touch
football that has become their trademark, Sheringham and David
Beckham were at its heart.
Five minutes before half-time,
Beckham spread the play wide to Gary Neville on the right. His
first-time cross found Sheringham unmarked at the near post but
he could only direct his header into the side-netting. Eight
minutes after the interval, though, Sheringham helped to make
the game safe. Nikos Dabizas played a suicidal ball into space
from near his own corner flag and when the ball broke to
Sheringham he laid it neatly into the path of Scholes, who drove
it left-footed beyond Harper.
Neither Temuri Ketsbaia nor
Silvio Maric had the composure to convert the two chances that
came their way in the last half-hour and prevent United dancing
their way into the record books. It was that quality - composure
- that Alex Ferguson, the United manager, singled out in
"Because he followed Eric
Cantona," Ferguson said, "it was obvious he was going
to be subjected to various types of criticism, but he was still
a great buy for me. He brings us composure, control and presence
and he was absolutely fantastic today."
Sheringham was revelling in the
moment, watching those years of frustration and ridicule ebb
away in a week of triumph. He was even asked if he was getting
blasť about winners' medals now. "When's the next one
coming up?" he asked.
"I'm on cloud nine at the
moment. With all the problems I have had this season, the
injuries and not being in the starting line-up, it is great to
come back and shut a few people up. I was devastated when I was
taken off at half-time last week, but we won the championship
and I was part of that and that's all that mattered. I wanted to
be involved in it, but the boss saw it differently and it worked
"I am happy today, I am
enjoying the moment, but the problems I have had are still in
the back of my mind. I have still got pride and faith in my
ability and I will fight for my place here." Before he
went, he was asked what the chairman had said to him. "Show
us all your medals now, Teddy," he said.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2):
P Schmeichel - G Neville, D May, R Johnsen, P Neville - D
Beckham, R Keane (sub: E Sheringham, 9min), P Scholes (sub: J
Stam, 77), R Giggs - A Cole (sub: D Yorke, 60), O G Solskjaer.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2):
S Harper - A Griffin, N Dabizas, L Charvet, D Domi - R Lee, D
Hamann (sub: D Ferguson, 46), G Speed, N Solano (sub: S Maric,
68) - A Shearer, T Ketsbaia (sub: S Glass, 78).
Referee: P Jones.