Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hu-going, going, gone

So it's farewell to Hugo Viana, the Portuguese midfielder having signed for Valencia permanently in a £1.2m deal.

Viana has been on loan at the Spanish club this season, having been loaned out to our UEFA Cup conquerors Sporting Lisbon last term, so despite being on our books for four seasons since his move to Tyneside in the summer of 2002, he only actually appeared for us in two of those.

The deal represents a massive loss for the club, having shelled out £8.5m for a player who at the time was regarded as one of the finest prospects in Europe. Make no mistake, his signing was a major coup, coveted as he was by some of Europe's largest clubs. When asked in one 2002-3 season preview which summer transfer had most caught their eye, Taggart, Wenger and Houllier all pointed to Viana's move to St James' Park.

But it just didn't work out for the lad, who struggled to adapt to the pace and physical dimension of the Premiership as well as failing to settle in the North East - perhaps neither were surprising given his tender age (he was only 19 when he signed). There's no doubt he was a skilful player, a prodigious talent - but ultimately he didn't have the stomach for the fight and was often all too easily muscled off the ball or utterly anonymous.

That's when he played, of course. I was surprised to learn he notched 60 first team appearances in those two years - I would never have guessed there were so many. He rarely got the opportunity to play in his favourite central midfield position, Speed and JJ consistently preferred. When he did feature, it was often on the left in Robert's absence - presumably (in Sir Bobby's logic) because he was left-footed. Played out of position, lacking confidence, his development stalled (for which the coaching staff have to take some blame), and suddenly £8.5m looked like an awful lot of money. have pointed to the away leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final against Marseille as the game which effectively marked the end of Viana's Newcastle career, a half-arsed challenge allowing Didier Drogba to score and wrap up the tie 2-0 on the night and on aggregate. But I'd prefer to remember the good things. Viana may only have scored four times, but one of those came on that marvellous evening in Feyenoord when we made Champions League history by qualifying from the group stage having had no points after three games, and another (a brilliant free-kick against Birmingham) secured fourth spot and the chance of another crack at the competition (one which we passed up, of course).

But perhaps his finest performance in a black and white shirt came at home to Chelsea in April 2004. He may have been overshadowed by Shearer's thunderbolt shot which won the game and the injury to Jonathan Woodgate that meant it ended up being his last appearance for the club, but Viana was immense - passing the ball neatly, tigerish in the tackle, dynamic going forwards. All of which meant the listless gutless performance in Marseille shortly afterwards - in the same central midfield position - was a mystery.

He'll probably be written off as a costly mistake, and certainly we've lost a lot of money - but no-one could have known exactly how it would pan out. Sadly it was a bad move for both club and player. Time to move on. Best of luck, Hugo - and don't come back to haunt us should we ever get back into European competition...


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