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Opinion

Unreliable Alan Shearer memories unravel tale of Didier Drogaba, Jonathan Woodgate, Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United

7 months ago
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Alan Shearer has been talking at length about Didier Drogba.

Picking the best three foreign strikers of the Premier League era, Alan Shearer has massive respect for the Ivorian forward [see below].

Recounting when he first came across Didier Drogba on a football pitch, Alan Shearer recalls Newcastle meeting Marseille in the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2004.

Shearer declaring ‘We had a very good centre-back in Jonathan Woodgate, who went on to play for Real Madrid, but Didier Drogba beat him up on both occasions, home and away.’

Alan Shearer’s memory deceiving him, as that isn’t quite how it was…

The semi-final first leg was played at St James Park on 22 April 2004 and Newcastle were missing Bellamy, Dyer and Jenas, all key players.

A hard fought match of very few chance for either club, ended in a goalless draw. Didier Drogba v Jonathan Woodgate was indeed an epic confrontation BUT Woodgate won that battle on points. Drogba played well but Woodgate was more than a match.

Three days later, Newcastle were at home to Chelsea in the Premier League.

Shola scored a great goal to equalise after Joe Cole’s opener, then the game will always be remembered for Alan Shearer’s winner, turning Desailly and hitting that superb serving shot into the top corner.

However, I always remember that game for another reason.

Jonathan Woodgate had been superb, which was pretty much the case every game when he was fit.

With 12 minutes to go, the Newcastle defender was ushering the ball out of play and suddenly pulled up in agony, never to play for Newcastle again.

Titus Bramble came on as sub and then when Newcastle met Didier Drogba [pictured above on international duty with Didier Drogba] and Marseille on 6 May 2004, it was Bramble and not Jonathan Woodgate who was playing alongside Andy O’Brien, unlike Alan Shearer’s memory of this particular game.

Drogba bossing the game in Woodgate’s absence, scoring the two goals that took Marseille into the final. With Woodgate missing as well as Bellamy, Jenas and Dyer, it was too tough an ask.

I remember the talk at the time was that Newcastle could be looking to sign Didier Drogba as Shearer’s eventual replacement but instead he signed for Chelsea for £24m.

As for Jonathan Woodgate, he never played for Newcastle United again and signed for Real Madrid in August 2004 for £13.4m, despite still being injured, indeed not playing for that entire season for Real Madrid, it being 13 months before he was fit enough to play in September 2005.

One other ironic twist in this tale.

I think this was one of the closest times Newcastle almost won something in my lifetime and the likes of Bellamy and Dyer could have played if the Magpies had reached the final.

In that final, Marseille ended up losing 2-0 to Valencia, which ended up being the final game for Rafa Benitez, winning the UEFA Cup before heading off to Liverpool.

If only Rafa Benitez in 2019 had players such as Shearer, Woodgate, Bellamy and Dyer to call on…

Alan Shearer talking about Didier Drogba to the official Premier League site:

“We had a very good centre-back in Jonathan Woodgate, who went on to play for Real Madrid, but Didier Drogba beat him up on both occasions, home and away.

“It was his [Drogba’s] build, strength, touch and technique.

“But his greatest strength was he was an all-round team player. He could do a bit of everything for the team.

“He could play as a target man and when Chelsea were in trouble, and that was plenty of times, they could hit that ball up to him and he’d hold it up.

“But when they wanted to play the nice, neat football, he was good at that as well.

“He could link up play, take a touch, turn, and then he could smash one in from 25 yards. He wasn’t just a box player.”

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