A lot of praise has been given to Jonás Gutiérrez in recent days, and rightly so.
Whilst there is an argument to say that he should stay, not just based on sentimental reasons but because he has actually been an extremely valuable and versatile player since his return to the side, it’s highly likely that Jonas has now played his last game for this club – and it may not be the best thing for club or player.
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It has been written in recent days that Jonás will indeed not be offered a contract extension, and we all know that ultimately, when the excitement of last Sunday fades, this club does not make sentimental decisions – it makes business decisions.
I actually began writing this article last week, before the West Ham match. Whilst looking ahead to the game, I thought about the fact that this might well be the final game at Newcastle for one of our longest serving players.
Plagued by the thought that this might not be such a happy ending for one of our most cherished characters, I felt the need to put down some gratitude for this man in writing, to acknowledge contribution to the club. On Sunday, of course, that contribution was made all the more memorable, but I feel that it’s important that we appreciate what Jonás has done at Newcastle United not just in the last few weeks, but over the last seven years.
Sunday’s match summed up Gutiérrez as a player. It can’t be denied that his goal, as wonderful a moment as it was, was actually a bit of a fluke. It might well have been heading wide before it was deflected, and the deflection certainly wrong-footed the keeper. But it was his ball for Moussa Sissoko’s opener that was the true moment of brilliance in the game.
Just when the team needed a bit of magic out of nothing, when tensions were starting to become unbearable, he produced a perfect cross on his weaker foot just when the team needed it. I’ve long lost count of the number of times I’ve watched on with painful frustration as Jonas has failed to beat the first man with a left-footed cross over the years, but he produced it when it mattered on Sunday, and it’s testament to his attitude and strength of character.
I remember being at St James’ for Jonás’ home debut for the club in 2008 and being genuinely excited by him. There was a real buzz around the stadium when he got the ball and it was refreshing to see a playing style so direct, showing a will to run with the ball, take on opposition players and always give maximum effort.
However, Jonás’ time at the club did not start out as planned. After the initial buzz around his exciting start to life at the club faded, Jonás was ultimately part of the infamous ‘too-big-to-go-down’ side that was relegated that same season – the first of the many undoubted lows in his career at the club.
However I – like most fans, I’m sure – will always hold fond memories of Jonás Gutierrez, as I will Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and many others, for having the loyalty to stick with the club when others jumped ship, and the ability and strength of character to get us back into the Premier League at the first attempt. At Championship level, we also saw Jonás able to regularly produce the kind of exciting play that we had seen glimpses of in his early days at the club.
Gutiérrez’ ability as a footballer should not be underappreciated. Admittedly, he has never been the most prolific in front of goal. The registration on his ‘trademark’ Spiderman celebration must surely have been in danger of expiration by the time we finally got to see it, but when he eventually pulled out the mask, it was a special moment.
Despite not contributing a huge number of goals and assists, Jonás has been an extremely useful player to have in the team over the years. He may have an unorthodox playing style where he looks like he is constantly on the brink of tripping over his own bootlaces, but in doing so he has an unparalleled ability to buy free kicks – fairly, I might add – out of absolutely nothing.
He also has an extremely useful knack of winning tackles or picking the ball up in pressured areas, then driving forward and gaining ten or twenty valuable yards at a time. Regular contributions like this that constantly relieve pressure on the rest of the team are a key part of Premier League football, and they aren’t as simple as they look.
There have also been moments of real magic and skill in his Newcastle career, memorably three superb goals against his favourite opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers. Let’s not forget that this was the man who was reportedly “first on the team sheet” for an Argentina side managed by Diego Maradona and containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez. He also made a telling contribution, primarily from a new deep-lying central midfield role, alongside players such as Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Ba in the excellent 2011-12 side that qualified for the Europa league.
However, there’s no doubt that Jonás’ performances did deteriorate majorly over the course of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was calling for him to be dropped indefinitely at the time. It was of course later revealed that Gutiérrez had been undergoing a battle with testicular cancer ever since that Arsenal match on the final day of the 2012/13 season.
At this point I feared that he may have played his last game for the club, but the comeback that he has made is simply stunning. For any cancer sufferer to come through the mental and physical strain to return to a career as a professional athlete is remarkable in itself, but to return to make such a telling contribution on the pitch is quite amazing.
In terms of where things go from here, it would probably be naive to suggest that the long-term answer would be to offer Jonás a new contract. It’s a shame, as his presence and experience would be a huge asset in a dressing room suspected to be worryingly short on strong characters.
The squad is however in need of an overhaul in all areas of the pitch, and I’d worry that a new contract for Jonás would in Ashley’s eyes be mutually exclusive with the purchase of a much-needed new winger. Whilst something like a year-long rolling contract extension would seem ideal, it would probably be disrespectful to Gutiérrez to offer him such a short-term deal at a stage in his career where he has probably got one more meaningful move left in him.
In many ways, it would also be much nicer to see him end his career with the club on a high having helped to keep us in the Premier League, before the trials and tribulations of another hard season spoil this in any way.
Those that have had the privilege of meeting Jonas Gutiérrez off the pitch say that he is a true gent, and I don’t doubt this for a second. Jonás never did look like being a player we’d forget in a hurry. The unorthodox playing style. The beard. That hair. Come to think of it, the man was rocking the man-bun and beard combination long before it was made “cool” by a bunch of hipsters somewhere in Shoreditch. But in footballing terms, Jonás’ career at the club was in danger of fizzling out in a manner much dissimilar to his bold look and personality.
However, after playing a huge part in rescuing us from the looming threat of relegation on Sunday, Jonás has ensured that, not just as a personality but also as a player, his contribution to the club will be remembered and appreciated for years to come. He may not have been the most gifted player to ever wear the shirt, but he is certainly one of my favourites. And if he has indeed played his last game in a black and white shirt, he deserves some recognition for his contribution to the club.
Thank you, Jonás.
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