Last season’s relegation of Newcastle United came with little shock to some of the beleaguered Geordie nation such as myself. Mike Ashley ‘s complete mismanagement, Dennis Wise’s underhand dealings and the Kevin Keegan embarrassment which should never have even occurred all contributed to the club’s fall from grace. Yet blame also had to fall onto the players. Substandard performances from the majority of the team, in particular much anger was vented towards a pair of Argentine internationals signed in the summer. Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas ‘Spiderman’ Gutierrez cost £10 million and £7 million respectively, expensive pieces of business for two players who were unproven in the physical demands of the Premier League. As is often with Newcastle’s purchasing of players with high reputation, (don’t mention Albert Luque) the performances did not match the hype.
Gutierrez worked extremely hard in his first season in England and is a fantastic dribbler, he rarely loses the ball, yet his distribution was quite shocking. He had a tendency to disappear in games and furthermore harnesses that unnerving ability of former Gunner Alex Hleb’s dribbling into cul-de-sac’s routine. Coloccini’s first season in England was something of a disaster. Upon his purchase I was looking forward to seeing him ply his trade in the Premiership. Having watched him turn out for Deportivo La Coruna a few times he looked strong, calm and assured on the ball, a good counter balance to Newcastle’s ‘John Terry’ styled Steven Taylor. How wrong could you get? The Toon army had sold Titus Bramble due to his severe lack of concentration and continual mistakes. Not much changed with Coloccini. The pace of the English game seemed to send him into a tailspin of comedy mistakes and nervous performances. Where was the assured player I had seen marshalling Deportivo’s defensive line? Relegation followed and what seemed would be a swift exit for the two underperforming players.
Six months on and how fortunes have changed, Newcastle sitting top of the Championship with the second best defensive record in England, (unbelievable I know) just behind Leeds United. Gutierrez and Coloccini have been arguably two of Newcastle best performers. No longer do we see the aimless wanders of Gutierrez or the ‘caught in headlights’ performances of Coloccini. In particular Coloccini has drastically improved since Newcastle’s relegation. A man of the match performance against fellow Championship promotion hopefuls Cardiff earlier this season signified his return to form. Newcastle’s fantastic defensive record so far this season has had Coloccini at the heart. An understanding with Steven Taylor and himself finally seems to be occurring. Gutierrez has produced much better with some spell bounding performances, as seen only last week in Newcastle 3-0 victory over Plymouth in the FA Cup third round replay with two assists to Lovenkrands ‘perfect’ hat-trick.
But do not worry, though this may elicit sounds of yet another Newcastle fan full of illusions of grandeur that simply does not exist at St James Park. I understand playing the likes of Plymouth, Peterborough and Derby every week is not the same as trips to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. Yet praise be where praise due, the Argentine duo have surprisingly hit the ground running on Newcastle’s promotion campaign and if a swift return to the Premiership occurs then these Argentine boys must take much plaudits on their current form.
Written by Matthew Balmforth