This Saturday lunchtime Manchester United square up to Tottenham to kick off the 2015/16 Premier League season but a forward who played 340 games for both clubs combined - notching an impressive 129 goals along the way - won’t be watching.
Instead Teddy Sheringham will be at Stevenage FC’s Broadhall Way fretting over every last detail of preparation ahead of his first foray into management.
Taking charge of a club who endured play-off heartbreak in the basement last term is an unlikely career choice for a man who, on retirement, swapped his boots for the poker tables, employing his wiles in casinos across the globe.
It seemed that Sheringham was one of a select few able to cash in his chips following a long distinguished service to enjoy all the other rich seams that life had to offer but football is sometimes like the mafia: Just when you think you’re out it lures you back in. The Corleone in this scenario was Sam Allardyce who persuaded the 51-cap England international to take on the role of attacking coach at West Ham last season.
“It definitely came from being involved with Sam last year,” Sheringham says. “Seeing how things were done. I’ve been a football man since I was a little kid so this is my game. People say about putting something back but it’s not really that. It’s more about passing on your knowledge and hopefully they will learn along the way.”
The Hammers had recently brought in three raw talents in Enner Valencia, Diafra Sakho, and midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and between them they tore into unsuspecting top flight defences seriously impressing one and all. Yet it was the most familiar of their attacking options who threw the rookie coach a curveball.
“Andy (Carroll) had already told me how good he was but I can remember doing the first shooting session and being nicely surprised at just how decent his technique and quality was.”
It can safely be surmised that the powerful but sadly injury-cursed striker would thrive alongside Sheringham in his prime. Prime? Make that any vintage. The cultured hit-man spent 25 years at the highest level playing the artful foil to Nigel Clough, Jurgen Klinsmann, Andy Cole, and most famously Alan Shearer in a strike partnership codenamed ‘SAS’ during Euro ’96. Yet his examination of what makes the perfect duo boils down to a simple recipe of each creating their own space using Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp at Arsenal to best illustrate his theory.
That may not go down well among the White Hart Lane faithful who sang his name for seven seasons but presently they have a new hero to acclaim and better yet one of their own in Harry Kane. Is there a danger the boy who shot from nowhere to bag 21 league goals last time out may now struggle having lost the element of surprise?
“When you have the qualities Harry has I’d thoroughly expect him to do exactly what he did last year. I don’t think he’s a flash in the pan or a one-season wonder. I really think he’s the real deal and wants to learn and if it doesn’t come as easy for him as last year he’ll find a way to do it in other ways.”
The similarities between the pair are, well, striking. Both born in Chingford, each tall frontmen too refined to have balls lumped up to, and now, with Manchester United reportedly circling, there is the potential for their career paths to merge. Yet whereas Sheringham headed north for the sum of £3.5m (“I think I’d be worth four million today”) to succeed a retiring Eric Cantona and win three league titles and a Champion’s League he is insistent Kane should remain in the capital.
“He’s at where he’s at and that’s a very sensible thing to do at the moment. He should be honoured still to play for Tottenham – and the way that he speaks he is. Harry is loving every minute of it so he hasn’t got eyes for anyone else.”
His concerns for his former club lie not up front anyway but rather with a long-standing problem area for Pochettino’s men.
“A real good leader at the back would be my first priority. Someone of Ledley King’s ilk would be lovely.”
So what of Spurs’ opponents this weekend, a Manchester United side that secured a Champion’s League spot last year but are now expected to muscle their way into the title reckoning? Can Louis Van Gaal’s side put up a serious challenge?
“Yes they can. They’re making an awful lot of signings and there are still bits going on. I would presume there is still a striker coming in for Man United and I’d be very surprised if that doesn’t happen. That could make all the difference.”
Talk of a striker is pertinent with Van Persie and Falcao off-loaded and Javier Hernandez rumoured to be heading for West Ham. Of the latter Teddy is a fan.
“He’ll want to be playing first team football and I don’t know why he can’t hold down a regular place for whichever team he plays for. He could work well alongside Diafra Sakho.”
Enquiries as to who United should target however are met with an ambiguous response. Which is quite understandable in the circumstances. Sheringham’s attention right now lies not in a transfer market awash with multi-millions. It’s in the bargain bins hoping to unearth an out-of-contract diamond who might shine in League Two.
We wish him all the very best. The man who replaced the King who was always the ace in the hole.