Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating those special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to a Peruvian wide-man who stayed perfectly normal while defying normality.
It’s easy to forget that Nolberto Albino Solano Todco played for five other English sides in addition to Newcastle. There was a season at Aston Villa. A mixed year at West Ham. He played eleven times for Leicester and had short stints too at Hull and Hartlepool as a fabulous career spanning two decades drew to a close. If this pins him down as something of a journeyman we know that not to be true though, because Solano’s heart always resided in the north-east.
It was on the Tyne where the Peruvian winger twinkled and delighted, exhibiting South American skills amidst the ferocity of English industry and being able to do so because he worked as hard as anyone. It was on the Tyne where he scored 37 goals with an astonishingly high percentage of them jaw-dropping belters, and it was there too where the keen trumpeter formed his own salsa band named The Geordie Latinos. It was on the Tyne where Solano very quickly became a beloved and valued figure.
He arrived from Boca Juniors in 1998 with the excess baggage of being dubbed ‘Peru’s Beckham’. It was a hype he lived up to on the pitch while playing it down elsewhere, winning over hearts and minds with antithetical superstar behaviour such as shopping in the local Asda and spending his afternoon coaching kids in the area. A year into his European adventure Sir Bobby Robson took on the reins, offering the 25-year-old all the trust, wisdom and avuncular security any creative player in a foreign field needs. Coupled with a telepathic understanding between himself and Kieran Dyer, Solano shone bright and often.
On Champions League nights Nobby went the extra mile, bewitching the continent’s finest full-backs and it reflects well on any player to reserve their finest performances for the biggest stage. In the league he was instrumental in the Magpies securing top five finishes across three consecutive campaigns as his firm friendship with Alan Shearer extended to regularly supplying him with chances and if this article lauds the talent from Callao it is presumably nothing to how highly regarded Solano remains to any striker who benefited from his low drilled drives or pinpoint dinked crosses.
It was his set-pieces however that really set the 95-cap international apart. Solano – who was always a strange mix of humble but outspoken; magnanimous but single-minded – saw them as a gift, telling The Guardian in 2001: “If I miss I’m as disappointed as when I miss a penalty, but I don’t mind that pressure”. What astounds when revisiting his many brilliant free-kicks is how often he goes to the other corner than you’re anticipating. And how often they sail in Beckham-esque.
It is not a free-kick though that is Solano’s slice of genius. That came against Everton at St. James’ Park on Feb 25th 2006 during the winger’s second spell at the club after his brief secondment to Villa.
Newcastle were already a goal to the good courtesy of their adopted son but this was an able Everton side steered by David Moyes when the Scot was still a decent manager and the Toffees were finding their way back into the contest. A draw looks possible, even probable, and with the home side recently enduring a dip in form so severe it precipitated the sacking of Graeme Souness, nerves were jangling around the cavernous stadium.
With fourteen minutes to go the ball was worked well across from left to right as Lee Bowyer collected a pass, drawing in a defender then releasing it out wide to Solano who took one touch to wrong-foot his opposite number. It gained him a modicum of space. On the downside it now meant the player was stationed just outside the area with the ball sitting up to be hit by his weaker peg.
Solano though had other ideas. He always did.
In the same fluid moment from his turn he chopped down with his right boot; connecting with the outside of it and swinging in an unnatural movement. How he summoned sufficient power for the ball to fly and spin past the flailing arms of on-loan keeper Sander Westerveld goodness knows. I should imagine the Dutchman is still probably wondering the same thing.
All that is certain is that an impudent flicked effort from the outside of Solano’s foot whizzed accurately to its destination with the force of a thunderbolt. And St. James’ Park rose as one to acclaim once again their little maestro.