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  • So Long, Spiderman

    Let's have another go at getting this blog thing to work. This is a couple of weeks old but hopefully it'll upload this time..


    Sometimes a bit of news comes along and you find yourself being surprised by your own reaction to it. Surprise at the strength of feeling the news provokes.

    The news that appeared on Twitter a couple of hours ago, from the man himself, that seemingly Jonas Gutierrez has left Newcastle United had exactly that effect on me. In no way was the news a surprise, in no way can I say that it feels like he leaves a huge hole in team given that he’s only played about 70 minutes of football this season, but I am truly saddened to think that he’s played his last game for us.

    Maybe it’s because we’ve been starved of success for so long as fans that we, perhaps more so than a lot of other clubs, have a bit of a tendency to latch onto people as folk heroes. Almost as if our great players become our substitute trophies. Obviously the ultimate is to have a true local-born top class player such as Beardsley, Gascoigne or Shearer, where passion for the club is a given. However, we take just as much pride in welcoming in an outsider who truly seems to “get” the club. The likes of Kevin Keegan or Malcolm Macdonald. Players such as Nobby Solano, Les Ferdinand, Philippe Albert or Rob Lee. Such players are perhaps less common than they used to be nowadays, probably because footballers who stick around at any club for more than 2-3 years are relatively rare.

    However, in my opinion Jonas Gutierrez deserves to be mentioned in that company. In my 25-30 years of watching Newcastle, always aware of that nebulous concept of a player “getting” what it was to play for us, I can think of very few better examples. Yes, of course I’m aware of the criticisms people may have had for Jonas over the years, but I never, ever heard anyone criticise his work rate, his stamina, his commitment, his fitness or his attitude.

    I can vividly remember Gutierrez making his debut for us at Old Trafford. In a season that started with such huge optimism and ended in such disaster, that first game was one of the few bright spots. Gutierrez in particular seemed to have the makings of a “fans’ favourite” almost immediately. He ran at the Manchester United defence relentlessly that day. Never tiring, worked hard up and down the wing and tackled as well as a full-back when required.

    As that season went on, people became more and more dubious. His crossing and finishing left a lot to be desired, generally seen as basic requirements for a successful winger. However, no one at the club benefitted more from our season in the second tier than Jonas. It seemed to galvanise his confidence as he formed a superb left-sided partnership with Jose Enrique that was the cornerstone of our promotion season. Their form continued into the following season, with Gutierrez a permanent fixture in our team. Throughout this time the reservations remained about his crossing ability but through sheer force of will he was winning over most fans.

    I maintain, and always have, that this issue of “crossing ability” is primarily a symptom of the fact that we never really did use Jonas properly. For a long time now we’ve had a very one-dimensional idea in this country of what it is to be a “winger”. Jonas came from a footballing culture with very different ideas about what that is. In old money I suppose the Jonas that we signed would have been recognised as an inside-forward. His game never really was about getting to the by-line and slinging over a cross onto the target man’s head. His strength was running from deep and playing through balls on the deck.

    That season in the Championship was essential for Jonas. It afforded him the opportunity to do two things. 1) Learn the role of English winger in a less pressured environment and 2) Demonstrate the strength of character he possessed. Don’t forget, when we went down the club was on its knees. Many players bailed out, many others made it clear they didn’t have the stomach for the fight. It would have been easy to assume that he and Coloccini would have been quick to walk away but in fact they came to define the heart and personality that drove the club onward and upward for the three years after relegation

    I loved the character Jonas brought to his game. He was an extremely clever player with a knack for winning free kicks at just the right time. His attitude and determination was superb. He seemed to be a popular character in the dressing room, very much a senior pro on and off the pitch. Meanwhile any journalist or fan who got to spend any time with him only ever had good things to say about him as a person.

    In the last 12 months Jonas has slowly become more of a peripheral figure at the club. Whilst still a near ever-present last season that gradually seemed to become more out of necessity due to injuries and suspension elsewhere in the squad. The realistic conclusion is that this is probably the right time for him to move on and continue his career elsewhere. Yet it saddens me to think that he’s leaving. We’re losing a great character from our club and, in fact, we haven’t even had the chance to say goodbye at St James’ Park as his two fleeting appearances this season have both been away from home. It’s unfortunate that this, his final season, has been robbed for him and from us as personal circumstances have taken him away from the club.

    I hope there’s an opportunity in the future for us to show our appreciation. I feel that Jonas is going to be one of those players whose contribution isn’t fully recognised until after he’s gone. He was a special player for this club at a time when we needed big hearts and big characters. He got what it was to play for Newcastle United and, lest we forget, he frequently played entire games with a mask stuffed down his shorts.


    phmc
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