Newcastle United mavericks – That’s entertainment
Let me set the scene if I somehow can….
Nolberto Solano was in trumpet playing salsa mode with his Latin-American combo extravaganza, as our talented little Peruvian midfielder wooed the audience in Newcastle at the turn of this century. He was loving every minute and so were we.
Yes folks, we have recently had the Newcastle United “cult heroes” and “the hard men”….now it’s time for the Mavericks!
I’m going to stick with the Premier League years so as to keep the interest of the younger readers and first up is Philippe Albert.
He arrived after some stand-out performances for Belgium in the 1994 World Cup finals in America. Versatile and strong it soon became obvious that the moustachioed Philippe had all of the ingredients to become a fans favourite.
I first met him in North Shields when he was opening the new Corals bookies and got the feeling he was a bit of a jack the lad. Who will ever forget that beaming smile and celebration as he wheeled away after chipping Peter Schmeichel in the famous 5-0 at St James Park.
“Philippe, Philippe Albert, everyone knows his name”….especially on Tyneside.
Next up is Faustino Asprilla.
Signed from Parma by Kevin Keegan in 1996, Tino arrived in the North East on a snowy day in a fur coat that Bud Flanagan or Zsa Zsa Gabor would have been proud of. Ushered straight into the Tees/Tyne derby Tino came on as a second half substitute and the next 25 minutes would go down in Newcastle United folklore.
Trailing 1-0 to a resolute Boro side, Newcastle were totally transformed on his arrival. Indeed the Teessiders’ right-back Neil Cox spent the rest of the game totally flummoxed as Tino went through his whole repertoire of sheer genius. Goals by Steve Watson and Les Ferdinand ensured another win and Faustino Asprilla had become an instant hero. It was later revealed that Tino had enjoyed a glass of wine with Kevin Keegan before he knew he was on the teamsheet an hour before the game.
One of my favourite memories of Tino was when he nonchalantly waltzed through the Metz defence in the UEFA Cup at St James’ before planting the ball into the net with the outside of his right boot. He then quickly removed his shirt and hoisted it upon the corner flag before preceding to run up the touchline.
No one will ever forget his heroics in the Champions League the following season against a Barcelona team that included Figo and Rivaldo. Tino frequently visits his adopted city and is still a very much loved member of the NUFC family.
Temuri Ketsbaia was a Georgian international who arrived in the pre-season of 1997. Little did he know that just a few weeks later he would become a Toon hero when he scored the last-gasp winner against Dynamo Zagreb that sent Newcastle into the group stages of the Champions League.
For all his obvious attributes, Ketsbaia surprisingly failed to cement a regular place in Kenny Dalglish’s only full season at Newcastle and eventually his frustration boiled over, after another one of his last minute winning goals, this time against Bolton in the Premier League. As the ball nestled in the net he bizarrely headed behind the goal and began booting the advertising hoardings, whilst stripping down to his briefs and socks….in a pique of rage apparently aimed at his boss.
The following season and a new gaffer. Ruud Gullit led Newcastle to the second of back to back FA Cup Finals and Temuri Ketsbaia became a bit of a talisman with some magnificent performances and goals. I think Temuri Ketsbaia will always be favourably remembered by Toon fans for his overall commitment and for wearing his heart on his sleeve.
Another Dalglish signing, the aforementioned Nolberto Solano will go down as one of the most cultured players to ever pull on the black and white stripes of his beloved NUFC.
Nicknamed “the Little Maestro” by none other than the Great Diego Maradona after his time at Boca Juniors, Nobby was tailor made for a Premier League fit enough for the likes of Zola, Bergkamp and Henry. I can still see him covered in snow and smiling on the halfway line at Elland Road just before Christmas 2001, when he had scored a last minute winner in a famous 4-3 win. My favourite Nobby goal came away against 1860 Munich when he somehow carried the ball from his own half with defenders diving in all over the place to dink the ball over the home keeper. Nobby actually had two spells at Newcastle, he came back from Aston Villa just as good as when he had left 18 months earlier. A real maverick and Toon legend is Wor Nobby.
Nikos Dabizas arrived from Olympiakos and it wouldn’t take long for the handsome and jut-jawed “Nik the Greek” to endear himself to the lads and lasses on the terraces. He will always be remembered at Newcastle for his headed winning goal against the mackems at the SOL…and his subsequent topless Adonis-like celebration in front of the ecstatic Toon fans. Nikos went on to become a legend for Greece when he was part of the squad that became Champions against all the odds at the Euros in 2004.
Laurent Robert turned out to be an inspired big money signing by Sir Bobby Robson and we all soon became aware of his single-mindedness once he pulled on the Toon jersey. He had a penchant for scoring some ridiculous goals but could often infuriate teammates like Shearer with his unorthodox approach.
My favourite Laurent Robert game was when he bagged a brace against Tottenham Hotspur. If any player has scored two more spectacular goals in the Premiership in the same game, I have yet to witness them… and that includes another maverick to come later in this article.
Hatem Ben Arfa initially joined Newcastle on loan but after a couple of man of the match performances soon convinced us that he was the real deal. It looked like Hatem had eventually found a place to call home and after recovering from a career threatening injury, he became the scorer of some of the finest individual goals ever witnessed for us. He later regained his place in the French national squad and the mention of his name still brings a smile to my lips and he is also wished all the best.
Finally, to a bloke that for a few months made the art of goalscoring look easy-peasy. Papiss Cisse was a lad who my brother’s mate had seen playing for Freiburg and tipped us off about. He was absolute dynamite and his debut goal against Villa and a couple of sublime finishes at Swansea was just a little taster of what was about to come.
It was at Stamford Bridge when European Champions League finalists and eventual winners, Chelsea were put to the sword by two of the most exquisite goals ever scored in our famous colours. The second killer goal is the greatest I have ever seen by a Newcastle player in any era and truly is wonderful in its execution.
That is what sets the mavericks out from the other punters my friends and why there will always be a place in our hearts for the lot of them.
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