During his seven years at St. James’ Park, Jonas Gutierrez has evolved from Spiderman to Superman – but with the curtain having fallen on his Newcastle career, the time has now come to pay tribute to a club icon.
The general conception of a foreign winger in the Premier League is usually someone like David Ginola. A brilliant, but often moody so & so, meandering around the touchline, not really enjoying Stoke away on a cold January night.
It’s not very often a Premier league side will sign a flamboyant, long-haired winger from Spain and he turns out to be a workhorse, utility-man, and over time, a dressing room leader. Unexpectedly, that’s what Newcastle got when they signed Jonas Gutierrez.
He was signed shortly before Fabricio Coloccini in 2008, and the two Argentinians were the only signings of any real merit during a now notorious summer that spelled the end of Kevin Keegan. Whilst at the time, most were aware of Coloccini’s standing in the game, many didn’t know much about the winger from Mallorca – other than his apparent penchant for donning a ‘Spiderman’ mask when he scored!
He started brightly, with a lung-bursting display in an encouraging 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on his debut. From then on sadly, Jonas’ and Newcastle’s season didn’t quite go to plan; Keegan walked, the place fell apart, and of course the inevitable relegation followed.
In the relatively calmer surroundings of the second tier however, Jonas, along with Colo and Jose Enrique, used The Championship to really adapt themselves to the harsh realities of English football. All three all had undoubted quality, but all three had struggled to get to grips with the Premier League – especially during the toxic whirlwind of the 2008/09 season.
As Newcastle romped to promotion, the ‘Three Amigos’ were a class above – The Championship proving to be the perfect setting to acclimatise and gain real confidence before returning to the top flight the players we all suspected they could be.
During this period, Newcastle really started to benefit from the relationship developed by Jonas and Jose, as the pair formed an almost telepathic tag-team down the left hand side. Initially it didn’t really work out for Jose at Liverpool, and I certainly think that not having Jonas in front of him anymore was a huge contributing factor.
It was following Enrique’s departure that Jonas began to amend his game and evolved into a more complete footballer. Over time he became more versatile and Newcastle’s ever-reliable utility-man, playing out wide, in the centre and even full-back when required. His ability, combined with a work rate which was second to none, is why he was capable of playing effectively in so many positions.
Most hearteningly of all with Jonas, because of the true professional he is, was always happy to do any job for the good of the team.
As the old song used to go at St. James’, he really was, here, there, every f*****g where!
Then came the thunderbolt. In 2013, Jonas disappeared, never returning following pre-season. Most had chalked it up to a contract dispute with rumours of an automatic extension if he reached 200 games. As we all now know however, the truth was far worse.
Gutierrez had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and was batting the hardest battle anyone could ever face. When news and pictures first emerged of Jonas following the chemotherapy, many were obviously shocked. The extent of Jonas illness had become clear and the thought of football was now an irrelevance.
As many on Tyneside will attest to however, Gutierrez is nothing if not a fighter. Being the man that he is, Jonas fought his battle with the courage, determination and dignity he always showed on the pitch. After months of battling, and undoubtedly many, many dark days, Jonas Gutierrez finally overcame his cancer.
In late 2014 he returned to Newcastle determined to prove that his career was not over.
Many wondered if Jonas would ever play top level football again. The question mark over what the cancer had done to his body certainly made most wonder if it was still possible – especially now in his early thirties.
Underestimate Gutierrez at your peril however. After weeks of building up his strength, stamina and match fitness, in March, Jonas finally made his return to the Newcastle first team.
It was a truly spine-tingling moment at a packed St James’ Park when Jonas came off the bench against Manchester United. In a moment that will live long in the memory, the roof almost came off when the Geordie nation rose as one to salute their returning hero.
Of course all this now pales in comparison to the scenes on the final day. With only a win enough to secure survival, Jonas produced the fairy-tale ending and the most fitting climax to any season. I’ve never quite heard noise like that produced by St. James’ Park as Jonas Gutierrez, Newcastle’s real-life survivor, scored the crucial second goal to secure the club’s safety.
It is goal that will never, ever be forgotten on Tyneside, and one I am privileged to have witnessed first-hand.
With no new contract in the offing, it now seems the perfect ending to Jonas’ Newcastle career. Whilst many would have liked him to stay, it does seem that there was just too much bitterness and bad blood over the way the club had handled his illness to necessitate a new deal.
Ultimately, I fear it is the club who will now suffer. If any team is to be successful, whether it be Barcelona or Barnsley, they need a Jonas Gutierrez. A player who will run himself into the ground, a player who will play anywhere for team, and a player who will do it without the tantrums and the dramas which are so synonymous with the modern day footballer.
He’s also a leader and, thanks to the resilience shown in the face of his illness, is now someone for all players, young and old, to look up to. His departure will be a huge loss to a Newcastle dressing room, already badly lacking in leaders and characters.
Jonas leaves after making over 200 appearances for Newcastle, and whilst he may not have been as technically gifted as the likes of David Ginola, Hatem Ben Arfa or even Laurent Robert, he will be held in far higher regard than any of them in Newcastle.
What Jonas lacked in ability in comparison to the aforementioned trio, he more than made up for in effort, determination and heart – and it is these qualities that Newcastle fans truly value higher than any other.
Famously, the Newcastle faithful have always loved their number nines, but what we love even more, are those players who give absolutely everything they have for our shirt.
As Jonas departs Newcastle, it’s with a heavy heart that I say gracias Jonas and wish him well – because in the modern game, players like him, well, they ain’t exactly here, there and everywhere…