Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays

We've decided it's about time we had some kind of regular editorial on Black & White & Read All Over. So, welcome to the first edition of A Month Of Saturdays, in which we take a topical glance back at the previous month's events. Some months the column will be written by me (in which case it will also be appearing on Tyne Talk courtesy of Nick), and other months it'll be written by Paul.

So, without further ado, here's the first installment, which focuses on a certain Peruvian trumpet-player...

A Month Of Saturdays: February 2007

Every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. Having enjoyed a period under Kevin Keegan which was definitely more silver lining than cloud, in the late nineties we suffered under particularly dark skies thanks to the endeavours of Kenny Dalglish and then Ruud Gullit. Hopelessly losing our way in the league was bad enough, but to make two consecutive FA Cup finals and then not bother turning up for either was even more painful.

During those dark days countless players arrived at St James’ Park, with Keegan’s team of oh-so-nearly men gradually dismantled. The new faces were in the main either too old or simply not good enough to wear the shirt. But amidst the Marcelinos, the Garry Bradys and the Ian Rushes, there were a few genuinely excellent signings. Gullit, for all his failings, was the man who brought Kieron Dyer to the club, and though the former Ipswich man has endured a constant struggle both with his fitness and with his own worst tendencies, he remains a match-winner on his day. Dalglish, for his part, was responsible for the capture of three players absolutely key in the subsequent revival of our fortunes after he and Gullit had departed: Gary Speed, Shay Given and Nolberto Solano.

February, and the low-key UEFA Cup second leg at St James’ against Belgians Zulte-Waregem, saw Solano notch up his 300th appearance for the club. Given the fact that overseas players don’t have exactly have a tendency to stay around on Tyneside for long before clearing off, their back pockets stuffed with tenners, this is a remarkable achievement; he’s the first foreigner to reach this milestone in a black and white shirt.

Nobby is in many ways the consummate professional. Occasionally peripheral to the action, admittedly, but never guilty of giving less than his all (Albert Luque, are you paying attention at the back?), at his best he’s a superb creative force on the right flank, our best crosser of the ball and also the scorer of some very useful goals (48 to date). Perhaps most admirable of late is the way that he’s uncomplainingly accepted the manager’s decision to push him back to right back in the absence of Stephen Carr, his more customary berth on the wing handed to James Milner. Contrast that with the childish tantrums the likes of Dyer, Luque and Craig Bellamy have thrown when asked to make similar personal sacrifices for the sake of the team. What’s more, he’s been a revelation back there, as disciplined off the ball as he’s been dangerous on it – though it’s about time commentators and pundits alike were acquainted with the fact that he was a wing-back when Dalglish signed him in 1998...

But it’s not just his on-pitch efforts that have endeared him to the fans. An amateur trumpet enthusiast, Nobby is famed for leaving cheeky musical messages on his team-mates’ answerphones – probably about as welcome to the rap and MOR rock fans of our dressing room as a kick in the swingers from Robbie Savage…

If bringing Solano to Tyneside was one of Dalglish’s best decisions during his time as manager, then letting him go – and for just £1.5m – was undoubtedly Sir Bobby Robson’s worst. Robson decided to get tough when former Peruvian captain Solano reneged on a vow to commit himself 100% to Newcastle by retiring from international competition, and Villa were the lucky beneficiaries. He only spent one full season in Birmingham, though, during which time he was their top scorer, before Graeme Souness made one of his own few sound moves and brought Solano back to the club he’d never wanted to leave in the first place. The idea was that he’d help provide the ammunition for Michael Owen, signed the previous day – it hasn’t quite worked out like that, but it’s been great to have Peru’s greatest export since Paddington Bear back in the side all the same.

All that said, if Solano’s 300th Toon appearance came in a distinctly unmemorable match, then his 301st will be one he’ll be desperate to forget. His missed penalty at Wigan on Saturday was the turning point in the game, our early promise dissipating as our hosts took heart and went on to inflict a third successive 1-0 defeat at the JJB on us.

February was a funny month results-wise. The Wigan match was the second of two desperately disappointing away losses to opposition we should be capable of beating in our sleep (Fulham being the other). We also recorded routine wins home and away in Europe against Waregem, landing ourselves a much tougher tie with Dutch dark horses AZ Alkmaar – but most eyecatching was the 2-1 win over Liverpool. We may have been fortuitous, our old boy Bellamy mercifully spurning numerous other chances to double his goal tally on the day, but in the second half we dug in and emerged with an extremely hard-won three points – no mean feat, given that in their very next game the Scousers managed to score a notable triumph over Barcelona in the Nou Camp. And all that after their two scorers had been involved in a comical drunken training camp contretemps, Master Bellamy blotting his already ink-sodden copybook once again by introducing his golf club to John Arne Riise’s shins.

If that’s the sort of response we could expect, perhaps someone should set about Luque with a sand wedge? The chances of our lethargic Spaniard making it to Solano’s 300 appearance milestone are, I suspect, rather slim.


Post a Comment

<< Home