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Regardless Of What He Does, It Seems Shane Long Will Never Fully Impress Alan Shearer

Regardless Of What He Does, It Seems Shane Long Will Never Fully Impress Alan Shearer
By Gavin Cooney

Today's Sunday Times features an excellent profile of Shane Long by Paul Rowan, as the Irish striker is finding the best form of his career ahead of the European Championships. Last night, he was  voted as Southampton's Player of the Year by the Daily Echo and a fortnight ago hit his 100th league goal in English football, a goal which took him to double figures in a Premier League season for the first time.

He has forced Ronald Koeman to adapt his side to suit him, and has ensured he is first choice up front ahead of Graziano Pelle, no longer playing second fiddle either on the bench or playing from deep.The game against Manchester City saw Long chosen as man of the match by Thierry Henry, despite the headline-hogging hat-trick by Saido Mane.

Yet despite this, former Southampton striker Alan Shearer is yet to be fully impressed:

He can score goals, but does he score enough? And at this level when chances come along you have to take them, but he will go into the Euros full of confidence. He has got that pace which worries defenders and he is as fit as they come, so he can run all day.

Ronald [Koeman] has done a very good job with him. Long is at a very good football club, I know that.

Long's rapid improvement at the relatively late age of 29 is intriguing, and it is difficult to locate exactly what has changed in his game. Martin O'Neill has previously hailed the development of his hold up play:

I think as a centre-forward - because I came up in the school where a great manager like Brian Clough wanted a centre-forward who could get hold of the ball - it's most important to get hold of it; don't flick it here, don't flick it away. I think Shane is making a conscious effort of trying to do this.

The very fact that he knows he's got a bit of pace and can outrun most defenders if the ball's knocked over the top - that's fine, but there are other aspects to centre-forward play. The movement, that's important but eventually getting hold of it when it's up there... naturally, we need centre-forwards who can hold the ball up, particularly under stress.

Football's lesser lights are currently coming to terms with a deluge of comparisons to Leicester City, and in the Sunday Times, Kevin Kilbane has made comparisons between Long and another late developer: Jamie Vardy:

He is that impact player. He is as quick as Jamie Vardy. He's stronger and better in the air than Vardy. The only difference is that Vardy has got the goals this season. Considering Long has only played regularly since Christmas, what could he have done if he had played a full season with his current mindset? He couldhave got 15 or 20 goals.

It seems one of the most important turning points for Long this season has been an injection of confidence. Hammering a ball past Manuel Neuer will do that for you. Another couple of similar showings at the Euros, and even Shearer might change his tune.

[Sunday Times]

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