FORMER Saints star Alan Shearer has backed Andy Carroll to take the European Championships by storm - but only if England play to his strengths.
Despite a turbulent year and a half since becoming the most expensive English player of all time, Liverpool striker Carroll is in line to spearhead his country's assault on Euro 2012.
The 23-year-old started Roy Hodgson's first game as England manager - Saturday's 1-0 friendly win over Norway - and with Wayne Rooney suspended and concerns over the fitness of Danny Welbeck, he could be in the XI against France a fortnight today.
Shearer, who briefly managed Carroll at Newcastle, said: "The ability's there. I saw that at Newcastle.
"He's had an in-and-out season but, for the last month, you've probably seen more of what Andy Carroll is about."
Significantly, Carroll has risen to the occasion on the big stage, scoring twice at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals and final - with Liverpool finally taking advantage of his aerial ability.
Shearer believes that bodes well for Euro 2012, providing England do the same.
"If you've got him in your team, you've got him in your team for one reason, and that is to get balls into the box," Shearer said, speaking during the British Airways Football Legends Invitational Tournament in Barbados.
"Because, if you get the right balls in, not many people will be able to stop him.
"If you do that, he'll score goals, whether that's at club level or international level."
Getting Carroll playing well may be only half the problem, with the striker having also endured more than his fair share of off-field issues.
Shearer insisted Carroll was the model professional during the 41-year-old's otherwise ill-fated spell in charge of the Magpies.
"He was fine, no problem at all," he said.
"He was a very hard-working lad who wanted to do well: desire, hunger, passion."
Should Carroll shine in England's first two Euro 2012 Group D games against France and Sweden, it could leave Hodgson with a headache about what to do with Rooney when the latter returns from suspension.
Shearer saw no reason why Carroll could not be an ideal foil for the Manchester United man.
He said: "He could play with most players, yeah. He could play with Wayne.
"I hope he gets his opportunity to do that. I hope they get through and they're able to do that."
Carroll's selection for Euro 2012 was one of a number of contentious calls by Hodgson - none more than the decision to leave out Rio Ferdinand.
Shearer refused to dispute Hodgson's claim that Ferdinand was omitted for "football reasons", rather than as a result of John Terry's upcoming trial where the latter will defend himself against a charge of racially abusing Ferdinand's brother, Anton.
But the former England captain added: "If it was my decision then I think Rio still has a lot to offer.
"I suspect it might be the end of him now if he (Hodgson) hasn't picked him for this tournament because of form.
"He's had a few injuries but I don't think you can doubt his ability."
England have arguably never gone into a major tournament with such low expectations following two dismal World Cups and their failure to qualify for Euro 2008.
"I think we'll do well if we get to a semi-final," Shearer said, insisting Hodgson needed to be given the benefit of the doubt if they flop in Poland and Ukraine.
"I've not met anyone who says we can win it, which hopefully can work in our favour.
"For the first time in a long time, there's no huge pressure for them to win it.
"One thing that will happen is that England will be well organised.
They'll be well drilled.
"Chelsea were that in the Champions League, weren't they?
"And if you're hard to beat then you can always nick a goal."
:: Shearer was speaking at the second annual British Airways Football Legends Invitational Tournament at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, held in conjunction with the Professional Footballers Association and the Barbados Tourism Authority. For more information about Barbados, visit www.visitbarbados.org.