Connecting With Newcastle United Heroes
Ever since I became a devout Newcastle United fan almost 20 years ago, I have connected with certain players for some reason, my Newcastle United heroes.
Before I go on, let me assure you that I’ve learnt the hard way not to get attached too soon, as the latest hero exits for pastures new and I’m forced to take a broader view of all things black and white.
At the moment the player I admire the most is our French full back, Mathieu Debuchy. This relationship was a protracted one, after Newcastle seemingly had a deal agreed in the summer of 2012, only for it to fall through and the player to be strongly linked to Real Madrid. It looked like we’d missed out on someone who was desperate to join the revolution on Tyneside by being excessively frugal in negotiations.
Thankfully that proved only to delay matters, as the deal was resurrected and all disagreements resolved, with the right back the first of five exciting additions the following January.
He was, quite frankly, rotten in a lot of matches during a painful run in and began this current campaign in much the same vein. Still, I rooted for the guy, aware of the quality he possessed, having witnessed some explosive displays for Lille and France.
The turning point in my opinion was a committed, composed display against Sunderland in late October. Perhaps Debuchy shone because of the dross he was surrounded by, but his goal, purposeful runs and tough tackling provided most of the positives from a grim day.
Since then the 28 year-old has been sensational, highlighted by one of the finest all round displays I’ve seen in my time as a supporter, as we defeated Manchester United in front of their crestfallen, docile supporters. How they must have wished Debuchy had been decked in red.
So, our number 26 is presently the player I cherish above all others on the books, but he’s not the first hero I’ve had…
Les Ferdinand (1995-97: 84 apps, 50 goals)
Sir Les had massive boots to fill, replacing the departed Andy Cole, who had struck a club record 41 goals in his only full season as a Magpie.
Ferdy started well, with goals in pre-season and one on debut against Coventry City. His partnership with David Ginola was almost telepathic at times, whilst he dovetailed sublimely with the great Peter Beardsley.
Before his second (and final) season in black and white got underway, Ferdinand was widely reported to be heading for the exit door, as the club splashed out a world record £15.6m on Alan Shearer. Instead, the two became the most feared partnership in the league, accumulating 49 goals between them, with Shearer securing his third Premier League golden boot.
Infuriatingly, Ferdinand was flogged to the highest bidder that summer, as Tottenham came in with a £6m offer that was considered excellent business for a 30 year-old.
The conclusion of that deal, coupled with an unfortunate ankle ligament injury suffered by Shearer days earlier, were turning points for the club, as the likes of Ian Rush and Temuri Ketsbaia led the line at various times in their absence, providing all the menace of Joe Pasquale posing as a doorman.
Ferdinand was never the same striker thereafter, while Newcastle took years to return to a place near the summit of the league, and only then on a temporary basis – the departure didn’t really work out for anyone other than the NUFC accountants.
£1.5m wasn’t a bad price for arguably the finest ‘keeper ever to represent the Toon, it was a particularly pleasing deal for me as my Blackburn supporting friend had been raving about the young Irish custodian and Sunderland (who he’d shone for during a loan spell) were gagging to snap him up.
Kenny Dalglish persuaded the 21 year-old to choose the habitable part of the North-East, with Given getting an early opportunity to play among the elite during the club’s Champions League campaign.
There were highs and lows early on, including an humiliating error against Coventry City, where the number one rolled the ball out in preparation of a hoof upfield, not realising that Sky Blues striker, Dion Dublin, was stood behind him. The end result saw the giant front man cheekily tapping into an unguarded net. Thus, the joke was conceived that Given was the only Irishman who didn’t know where Dublin was!
From 2001 until he left the club eight years later, Shay was mostly brilliant, despite the club often lurching from one crisis to the next.
His departure was sour and the way he abandoned ship during our time of need was fairly galling. In the long run perhaps it was best for both parties. The player’s tipping point an ill-advised bout of ‘handbags at half mast’ between Jose Enrique and Joey Barton, as we floundered during a 3-0 reverse at his former club, Blackburn Rovers.
Just like Ferdinand, his next move was the beginning of a rapid downward spiral, as Manchester City forked out £5.9m, only to relegate him to Joe Hart’s understudy following just one full season as first choice.
Nolberto Solano (1998-2004, 2005-07: 314 apps, 48 goals)
What a player this guy was! Looking back at the 2001-02 end of season DVD recently, I was amazed at the frequency and accuracy of Nobby’s crosses into the box.
Without even needing to control the ball, he would clip it with that magic wand of a right foot, invariably causing havoc in the penalty area – if only we had a set-piece expert like him now!
Not only was he technically outstanding, the Peruvian was also one of the most likeable individuals in the squad and very rarely made tabloid headlines for anything other than his on-field prowess, or slightly less convincing trumpeting.
Falling out with Sir Bobby Robson over international football issues, Solano was marginalised in his final season, with Darren Ambrose and Lee Bowyer filling in on the right side of midfield. Criminally he was then sold to Aston Villa for the miniscule sum of £1.5m – this despite having recently penned a long-term contract and being the right side of 30.
When Nobby returned in 2005 fans rejoiced, indeed among all of the crap that the club spent fortunes on that summer, only Solano and Scott Parker proved worthy of the hype.
In 2007 Solano headed to West Ham for family reasons but this time it was easier to accept. At 33, he had been moved to right back and done a sterling job there for Glenn Roeder’s struggling Magpies in his final season.
The little maestro, a self-proclaimed ‘adopted Geordie’ is welcome back on Tyneside any time, in an ideal world he’ll prove to be a coach worthy of future employment with his favourite club.
Fabricio Coloccini (2008-present: 197 apps, 5 goals)
Oh Coloccini, you have been one of the finest centre halves to grace the black and white shirt, those sentiments courtesy of one of your fellow curly haired brethrens!
When the Argentinian defender arrived from Deportivo La Coruna for just over £10m in 2008, great things were expected. He started reasonably well, but descended into pantomime, as a series of over elaborate mishaps saw him outshone by £500,000 purchase Sebastian Bassong.
With the Toon relegated in his first season, it was widely reported that Colo would be on his way for a substantially reduced fee to what Mike Ashley had splurged. Instead he stayed put, slowly gaining confidence in himself and from the stands by ironing out the errors that had previously undermined him.
The acid test came after promotion back to the top flight, one that the player passed with flying colours. Between 2010 and 2012 fans were treated to some of the best ball playing defensive work in the history of the club, with Coloccini even inheriting the captain’s armband when Kevin Nolan departed in 2011.
Things have certainly altered a smidge since the skipper decided to tarnish his reputation in order to try and push through a transfer to San Lorenzo last January, but he is still a joy to watch to witness at his elegant best.
Perhaps Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is the wise option to partner Mike Williamson at this stage, yet it would be remiss to deride all that Fab has done for the club in his near five and a half years thus far.
After a dodgy start that saw him compared in some quarters to the likes of Jean-Alain Boumsong, he has salvaged his career in England, becoming a club legend in the process.
I for one will miss him when he leaves.
So, how will Debuchy measure up to those listed? I believe in him and have seen enough to suggest that the Premier League will suit his all action style. Suspensions and moments of recklessness are inevitable, but expect them to be outweighed comfortably by intelligent forward play, robust covering and a never say die attitude.
The only question mark could be if/when his best friend Yohan Cabaye ditches the scene, will Mathieu fancy it as much without his comrade in tow? I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one. Until then I intend to get behind all of the boys and if I do stick a name on the back of a shirt any time soon it will read ‘Debuchy’.
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