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Opinion

Favourite 11 Newcastle United players of my lifetime as an NUFC fan – The countdown begins…

6 months ago
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Who are your favourite Newcastle United players?

There’s obviously no football on currently to discuss, nor will there be in the immediate foreseeable future.

That fact, coupled with a news story about Nolberto Solano today, inspired me to write this.

For context, I’m 31 and began supporting Newcastle in 1995 as a 6 year old.

My 11 favourite Newcastle United players (ED: Countdown starts below, it was a monster length debut article from David so we have cut it in two, from 11 down/up to 6 here, then 5 down/up to number 1 on Sunday):

11. Papiss Cisse

I was surprised when he joined midway through the 2011-12 season.

We were riding high and it was most unlike Mike Ashley to sanction a £10m signing when it wasn’t needed to scramble to relegation safety. His first four months were sensational and the quality of the goals is largely why I’ve included him.

Some of the goals he scored in those four months eclipse anything most strikers produce in an entire career. He lost confidence though and Pardew scandalously played him out of position, including the right wing in a 4-5-1. His ability (apart from scoring goals) was actually pretty poor, not great at dribbling, passing, or much else really, which is why he was unsuited to being anything but a finisher.

The Mag Issue 269 2 June 2012

Issue 269 – 2 June 2012

What he was, was an instinctive goal scorer in the box (and sometimes outside, see vs Chelsea and Southampton). He was at his best with one touch finishes, look up his goals and see how many are first time finishes where he doesn’t have to think or over-elaborate. It was a joy to watch a guy who instinctively knew how to finish off a chance or half-chance with an infectious smile too.

He won’t be remembered as a great player but he brought some joy to us in a decade which has been short on joy to say the least. And in the end, that’s what we watch football for.

10. Hatem Ben Arfa

One of, if not the, most naturally gifted players to turn out for us.

Dribbling ability that would rival Messi’s with some amazing goals to go alongside it. In the last decade we’ve been starved of players that can make things happen but Hatem was one of the finest. Expect the unexpected!

He was a player that came with a reputation of disciplinary issues and a lack of focus but I never saw it much. What I saw was a player who was fun and exciting to watch and when utilised in a front three alongside Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, was devastating.

Sadly, he was the very definition of a player being ‘Pardewed’ by that absolute fraud of a manager. He had no idea how to handle flair players. Pardew stumbled upon a great 4-3-3 system with Tiote, Jonas and Cabaye in the midfield and Ba, Cisse and Ben Arfa up front. That system yielded six league wins on the bounce, which, unless you’re Man City or Liverpool is no mean feat. When he abandoned it to accommodate Ba in a more central role in a 4-4-2 the following season, both Cisse and Ben Arfa suffered.

Hatem was never as dangerous on the wing and Pardew would rather have a Gouffran (who despite his endeavour was limited) who’d track back. Gradually he was phased out and that was that. Allan Saint-Maximin is the closest thing we’ve ever had to Hatem since and watching him brings much the same feelings.

9. Jonas Gutierrez

By this time I was a university student and the quality of the team I once followed had dipped and under Ashley that was set to continue for well, forever. Jonas had a very impressive debut away at Old Trafford and I liked him instantly. He was criticised for a lack of end product and at the time I would have been in the minority as one of his advocates. Granted he wouldn’t have made the first 11 under Keegan or Sir Bobby but during his early time at the club he was the only player who could run and actually take defenders on to create space or create anything.

He wins points for staying with us in the Championship, which is not what he would have signed up for as an Argentine international. He was clearly a cut above in the second tier and toughened up a bit and went on to become a very solid Premier League player. As the years have passed, more and more Newcastle fans have come to appreciate him and I feel really vindicated that I correctly judged his character and quality from the get-go. He was someone who clearly ‘got’ what it meant to play for Newcastle.

Treated abysmally during his time with testicular cancer but in true Jonas style he recovered and appeared again for us, albeit briefly, and endeared himself even further by taking Ashley on in court and winning. Sadly, what might be thought of as his best moment in scoring in that final game of the season against West Ham, is definitely more bitter than sweet to my sensibilities. I remember Hull were at home to Man United and we needed them to not win against a Man United side with nothing to play for. Sure, results went our way and we survived, but to what end? There’s no ambition to achieve anything beyond 17th.

Contrast Jonas’ effort to do the best for us fans against Ashley’s to destroy the club’s soul and turn it into a dishonourable shower to advertise Sports Direct. As I write this, he has displayed his avaricious colours for the whole country to see during the Coronavirus crisis. It’s a pity it’s taken a global pandemic for everyone to realise us Newcastle fans have been right for 13 years. Jonas knew he was a wrong’un and holds Newcastle in his heart.

8. Tim Krul

I have an affinity for goalkeepers and Tim is even my age too. I remember his debut as an 18 year old away at Palermo in the (now) Europa League. We won 1-0 through an Albert Luque header (about the only goal he ever scored for us) but the hero of the night was Timmy, making a string of saves as we completed a smash and grab victory.

Once Shay left he had more opportunities to shine, especially when Steve Harper was injured. He gradually asserted himself as our number one and a fine shot stopper. Perhaps not the best with his kicking or distribution but with Tim in goal you always felt it would have to be a good shot to beat him.

He suffered a serious injury and even when back on the road to full fitness, Benitez didn’t fancy him for whatever reason. Which I found especially weird, as the keeper he bought, Matz Sels, was atrocious. Various loans away followed and it’s been nice to see him back in the Premier League with Norwich. Newcastle is very dear to Tim’s heart and he cultivated a good relationship with the fans and never really wanted to leave.

7. Laurent Robert

A player whose star shone brightly at Newcastle and then sadly petered out rapidly once he left, as Souness dismantled the 2000-2004 team.

He wasn’t the hardest working player and at times was quite greedy but he was the one player in Sir Bobby’s team who’d get you out of your seat.

The Mag Issue 194 11 June 2005

Issue 194 – 11 June 2005

For sure he could be inconsistent but he could come up with something to change a game and you need that. Too often these days we watch safe possession that goes nowhere (not much possession currently under Bruce I’ll grant you that).

He had a left foot that could turn the ball into a homing missile for Shearer’s head, or a laser guided hammer, depending on how he felt. Honestly, he’s mainly in the list because of the sheer quality of his goals, the two against Spurs in a 4-0 home win particularly stand out.

6. Nolberto Solano

Solano embraced Newcastle as a club and a city and built a good relationship with the fans.

A willingness to work hard and a game built on consistency, intelligence and reliability, was mixed with excellent crossing and dead ball delivery.

He shouldn’t have been let go to Aston Villa but I was thrilled to see him come back for two more seasons, giving us eight in total with him.

Ironically, I think his best goal is one for Villa from a corner against Spurs. Nobby was a key cog in the fine team Sir Bobby assembled and Shearer speaks highly of him, so enough said!

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