Watching football fans watching the football
As the Newcastle favourite prepares to return to the North East, Kristan Heneage looks back on exactly why Nolberto Solano is so popular in the region
When the news broke last week that Nolberto Solano would be spending next season with League One side Hartlepool United, a fair few in the North East will have raised a wry smile.
‘Nobby’, as he is affectionately known, has joined Pools on a one year deal after turning down an extension with Hull City, reigniting his love affair with the North East of England.
Signed in 1998 by Kenny Dalglish from Boca Juniors for £2.5 million, he was one of the most technically gifted players to grace St James’ Park in recent times. Originally wearing the No.24 with his jet black hair combed back, he displayed a lethal aptitude from free-kicks.
His first goal for the club came at home to the artist formerly known as Wimbledon, a neat chest control before volleying through a crowded penalty box. He was one of a host of South American imports to St James’ in the late 90s but he was by far the best. As he began to settle into life in England his performances improved, and he went onto became a vital cog of Sir Bobby’s side of 2001/02 that qualified for the Champions League.
Laurent Robert on the left and Solano on the right provided a fantastic supply line for an aging Alan Shearer. The Peruvian would also chip in with the odd goal, including a fantastic late winner at Elland Road in December 2001. Newcastle had found themselves behind 3-1 early in the second half before a rousing comeback and lung busting late run from Solano sparked a jig of delight from the then 68-year-old Sir Bobby Robson.
But tensions between the keen trumpet player and the man who helped him flourish on Tyneside began to surface when the Peruvian continually insisted on playing for his national side. The long flights and midweek trips took their toll on Solano and Sir Bobby feared for the player’s match fitness.
In January 2004 he was surprisingly sold to Aston Villa for the paltry sum of £1.5 million - a decision many fans still lament to this day. During his spell in the West Midlands Solano clocked up nigh on 50 appearances for Villa. He would win Player of the Season in his one full campaign with the club - 2004/05, topping the club’s scoring charts with nine goals including a memorable acrobatic bicycle kick that sealed a 1-0 win over Tottenham.
A swift return to the Magpies in the summer of 2005 saw Solano welcomed ’home’ with open arms by Newcastle fans as the terrace favourite quickly clicked back into gear. Despite having hit 30 and lost half-a-yard of pace, Solano’s football-brain and technique appeared sharper than ever.
Dropping deeper to occasionally fill in at right back the wise head once managed to nullify a certain Portuguese winger now plying his trade in the white of Madrid, but that would not be the crowning moment of his second spell with Newcastle.
That would come instead late one Saturday evening at home to Everton in 2005. The second of two goals that night summed-up why Boca Juniors teammate Maradona nicknamed him ‘Maestrito’. It was a wet night on Tyneside making the pitch slippery and greasy, so when he received the ball just outside the penalty box his first touch to take him inside the defender was clever.
What happened next was a moment of brilliance. Instead of hitting it with the end of his foot he proceeded to use the outside of his right boot in a technique known as ‘Trivela’. The ball began curling before nestling every so precisely in the bottom corner. As he wheeled away signing the cross on his chest the crowd roared in delight at a moment of magic from a player they had taken to their hearts.
He would end his time at Newcastle the season after but he left with some fantastic memories, including a winner against arch rivals Sunderland from the penalty spot. After leaving Tyneside he moved to West Ham for a season to be closer to his family in London. From there a nomadic period ensued during which he spent time with Larissa in Greece, Universitario in his homeland before returning to England with Leicester City in 2010. He would go onto follow his manager at The Foxes Nigel Pearson to Hull where he managed just under a dozen appearances last term.
His most recent move may seem weird to some but not those who know him. He still owns a house in the North East and is very much enamoured with the people and the area, a feeling that is most definitely mutual with fans of those in Black & White.
The deal at Hartlepool reflects Solano’s advancing years and offers him a player coach role. It means he is unlikely to feature often for the club on the pitch, however if he is able to pass on his experience to team-mates then it could prove to be a fantastic coup for manager Mick Wadsworth and a real trump(et) card.
Booby Robson wasn't even at the club in 1998 man!
Dalglish signed Solano you div!
Ok so he got a fact wrong but I've never heard of 'Booby Robson'? Take it on it's merits a nice piece about a player who has found a second home.
Yeah - slight error there, now ammended
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