After a campaign of misery, Newcastle’s season ended in the most magical fashion for most supporters’ favourite player. Jonas is an adopted Geordie.
Gutierrez’s story is well-told, but bears repeating. In September 2014, the Argentinean revealed that he had been receiving treatment for testicular cancer. He had noticed a lump after a collision with Bacary Sagna against Arsenal in May 2013. After an operation to remove the tumour, he received further chemotherapy following a swelling of his lymph nodes. It was not until November 3 last year that he was discharged from hospital, and began the long road back to full fitness. The first-team return came in March.
Gutierrez says that he will never forgive Newcastle for the way he was treated after returning from his illness, with Alan Pardew informing him he was not wanted by the club. It is reported that they also refused to pay his medical bills. Yet it was Gutierrez who put those differences to one side when it mattered most.
If there was one Newcastle player to lift the gloom, it had to be him. Gutierrez’s cross assisted Moussa Sissoko for the opening goal, and then a scuffed shot sealed the home side’s victory and Premier League survival. He ripped off his shirt and celebrated like he has never celebrated before; a stadium went crazy.
Having had his own life saved, Gutierrez became Newcastle’s own saviour. It was his first goal since his cancer battle had been won.
“I know this could be my last game at St James’s Park,” he said after the game. “Since I have recovered from my illness, I have always said the same thing. I want to help the team and work hard. I’ve been improving all the weeks since I arrived. I feel stronger and feel I can play 90 minutes. Two months ago, I didn’t know I was going to be able to play.
“We have to do it for the fans and the city, because they don’t deserve to be in this situation,” Gutierrez continued. “We are the players, and we have to take responsibility. It’s always our responsibility. We are the players that are on the pitch. We have to do it for the fans and the city.”
I wrote this when Gutierrez returned to the Newcastle side, but even that happy ending has been surpassed. That is the way to truly beat cancer. Fight back, grow stronger and achieve personal greatness.
Jonas Gutierrez was already a cult hero at Newcastle. He has now become one of the city’s favourite sons.
With his PR at its lowest ebb, it was an opportune time for Mike Ashley to speak to the Sky cameras for the first time.
“[My intention is] To definitely win something and, by the way, I won’t be selling the club until I do,” was Ashley’s defiant message. You can read that as an apology for the club’s current predicament or the words of a dictatorial owner, but Newcastle supporters at least have some words with which to hang Ashley should he fail to come through.
On Match of the Day, Alan Shearer issued his own pointed response: “Now if they stop selling their best players, bring in a few new faces and play the best team in cup competitions, you never know, we might just have a very good club on our hands.” Burn.
Shearer is right, too. Until now, Ashley has used Newcastle as an elaborate advert for Sports Direct, making a profit year on year. Now the time has arrived to show that the club does mean something to him. It’s all very well declaring your intentions to win something, but Newcastle’s recent FA Cup record reads: R3, R3, R3, R4, R3, R4, R3, R4, R3.
The first show of intent concerns the club’s new manager, with John Carver reiterating his desire to stay on as boss. It will be difficult to take Ashley’s promises seriously should he again leave the club short in that most vital area. Actions speak louder than words.
He should never manage another match at St James’ Park, but it is impossible not to feel happy for Carver. His own obvious inadequacies helped force Newcastle into this sorry mess, but he remains a supporter of the club. Taking the Toon down would have broken his heart.
The perfect way to end an almost perfect season. Mark Hughes wasn’t able to beat the Stoke City record he set by leading the club to ninth last season, but he did match it.
The crushing 6-1 win over Liverpool meant that Hughes’ side also scored more goals than Stoke have done in any of their other six PL seasons, and they conceded their joint fewest total. Their total of 1.43 points per game is higher than Stoke have managed in the top flight since three points for a win was introduced.
A few weeks ago I ended up sort of accidentally backing Hughes for Manager of the Year, given the little money he has spent. I’m sticking by that shout.
The cynical response is that Walcott was playing for his contract on the final day, but that’s more than a little unfair. It’s not as if Theo has been underperforming in recent weeks – he just hasn’t been given a chance.
This was the perfect occasion for him to show what he can do. Against a West Brom defence with pina coladas on their minds, Walcott ran them ragged. If Wenger’s aim was to have his forward straining at the leash, it worked perfectly. Walcott was like a toy car that has been wound back before being released.
The circumstances themselves may have been meaningless but for Walcott, Sunday afternoon held great relevance. Trusted in a central striking role, he scored three times in the first 37 minutes. Olivier Giroud is now 541 minutes without a goal for Arsenal.
The first was a rasping drive into the top corner, whilst the second involved him wriggling free in the area and stabbing home. The third was a tap-in, but Wenger must have been mightily pleased to see Walcott in the right place at the right time.
So, is it enough to ensure that he stays at the Emirates? Of more immediate significance is whether the hat-trick hands Walcott a starting place in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
The Golden Boot was already secured, but Aguero’s goal on the last day made it nine in his final seven Premier League matches. Our belief that he is the best player in the Premier League doesn’t budge, although Eden Hazard has outperformed him this season. Just.
“It is difficult to be impressed with Sergio,” said Manuel Pellegrini after the victory over Southampton. “I work with him every day and know what a player he is. He is improving a lot of things. I am sure we are going to see the next years of Kun as a better player. He has chances to continue improving. I am very happy for him. He is improving in the way he understands what football is.”
The thought of Aguero getting even better gives us a funny feeling in our tummies, like we’ve just gone over a humpback bridge at 60mph.
A victory to ensure that Burnley finished just five points from safety. I make no apologies for saying that I wish them a speedy return to the top flight, but it will be a damn sight harder without Danny Ings.
An extraordinary end-of-season run culminated in their biggest victory of the season. Backing Leicester to survive at the end of March was ambitious, but calling them to finish 14th was unthinkable.
On April 3, Nigel Pearson’s side had 19 points. They ended up on 41, only four points behind the ‘unfortunate’ Sam Allardyce and seven points from the top half.
You don’t have to like Nigel Pearson, but you can’t doubt that miraculous run. In the last eight weeks of the season, no club took more points than the one who started that period propping up the rest.
A goal on the final day to end a four-game ‘drought’. That’s longer than Kane had gone without a league goal since this magical run began.
Kane scored 21 Premier League goals this season despite not getting his first until November 2. His total of 21 has only been beaten by three English players in the last decade. Step forward Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent and Frank Lampard.
The striker also finished with 31 in all competitions, the first Spurs player to break the 30-goal mark since Gary Lineker in 1991/92. Something to tell the grandkids about, whatever happens from now on in.
Struggled badly under the high ball but made some excellent reaction saves. Valdes’ first United start had all the hallmarks of David de Gea’s first season. He is 33, though.
There is one aspect of the Spaniard’s full debut to be celebrated without qualification. Against Hull on Sunday, United kept their first clean sheet in over two months.
Leicester City to win 5-1. At 50/1. Our lovable rogue sure picks his moments.
The overwhelming feeling should be beaming pride, but we can’t help worrying that Degsy was loose in Hartlepool with at least a hundred notes in his pocket on a Bank Holiday Sunday. We’re considering making posters and getting people to check in their sheds.
In the end, even a victory over Manchester United wouldn’t have been enough. Hull fought gamely on the final day, but the damage had already been inflicted. Steve Bruce’s side only collected two fewer points than last season, but have paid the price for their lack of improvement. Those two points cost them two places.
It’s impossible to say that this has not been coming. Despite significant investment in players Hull have got worse, not better. Since their return to the Premier League in August 2013, they have never won more than two games in a row. They haven’t gone more than three league games without defeat in 19 months, and their results against the top seven in both of the last two seasons is an embarrassment: P28, W2, D5, L21. Finally, Hull failed to score in 17 of their 38 matches this season. That just won’t do.
It felt as if Hull were always hanging on in the Premier League. Eventually fingertips get tired and give way. Climbing back will be tougher still after the hard bump of landing in the Championship.
The suspicion remains that Bruce will be given an easy ride by the media despite taking Hull down after spending £65m in two years.
‘Let’s hope Assem Allam concentrates on getting a decent club with a decent boss back into PL,’ tweeted Oliver Holt on Sunday evening. How ‘decent’ can an unexpected relegation really be?
At least on Sunday the manager accepted culpability. “Too many times I have come out and said we haven’t done badly and not scored,” he said. “The team in general have to create and score goals. We have had umpteen chances and not been able to take them. We all have to take the brunt of it, we have not been good enough. I thought at the start of the season we would have enough to stay in the Premier League but we have not done enough.”
There is no doubt that Bruce could not complain if he were sacked. He spent more than 13 other PL managers last summer, and has only succeeded in taking Hull down. “I was not expecting this,” said Michael Dawson after relegation was confirmed. He is not alone.
Whether Allam prefers to keep the faith with his manager now remains to be seen. Will Bruce feel the benefit of backing his boss in his public battle with supporters and tradition?
Brendan Rodgers and overstatement
“He really has everything to be that world-class player” – Rodgers on Daniel Sturridge.
“He can be one of the most exciting talents in world football. He has everything to be world-class” – Rodgers on Divock Origi.
“He is unbelievable. He’s still world-class” – Rodgers on Steven Gerrard.
“He will develop into a world-class player” – Rodgers on Emre Can.
“He’ll become world-class in the next couple of years” – Rodgers on Philippe Coutinho.
“I think Mario is potentially world-class” – Rodgers on Mario Balotelli.
It all leaves me thinking one thing. Maybe all these “world-class” players might need a world-class manager?
Incidentally that’s the same Origi who was named in Ligue Un’s Worst Team of the Season by L’Equipe, with an average rating of 4.46. So if you thought next season would be different…
Brendan Rodgers and Emre Can
‘Today marks 10 years since #LFC dramatically defeated AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul to lift a fifth European Cup,’ tweeted the Liverpool account on Monday morning. Can you mutter a tweet under your breath?
‘One day after we dramatically conceded 6 to Stoke? F**king joke,’ came the instant retort. Oh social media, how you pithily reflect the mood.
I said plenty about Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers here, but it is worth touching on a point that I omitted for reasons of brevity. Of all Liverpool’s questionable summer 2014 signings, Emre Can became the most obvious (only?) success story. Pushed into a central defensive role, Can performed admirably away from his holding midfield position. His calmness on the ball offered a pleasant respite from Dejan Lovren’s struggles to adapt to life at Liverpool.
Since then, Rodgers has again changed Can’s position. Rather than putting him back into a central midfield role, the German has been asked to play as a right-back. It has not gone well.
Stoke’s task wasn’t difficult. They gave the ball to Marko Arnautovic and told him to run at a player so obviously uncomfortable in his position. Can looked bereft of confidence, helpless to stop the red-and-white tide that was making him look foolish. 45.4% of Stoke’s attacks came down the left wing in the first half (compared to 27.7% down the right), and yet Can failed to make a single tackle, clearance or interception. He was removed at the break.
One would forgive the German for being pretty p**sed off. He was asked to be the firefighter during a water ban, left exposed by the inadequacies of his manager. Liverpool had six outfield substitutes at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday – two of them were central defenders and three others have played full-back for Rodgers. Can must have been pointing around the dressing room mouthing “Warum mich?” at his manager.
Unlike some of Liverpool’s other signings, Can’s Anfield career is not in danger. However, he would be forgiven for expecting better things from his club, starting with a position ahead of Joe Allen in central midfield.
A year ago Can was starting (in midfield) for Bayer Leverkusen in a victory that would secure their position in the Champions League. Still just 21, how long until he too gets uneasy at the club’s regression?
Back to the bad old days of October and November. Mignolet’s form has improved over the course of this season, but he still remains the weakest goalkeeper in the Premier League’s top nine.
The Belgian must only hope that Liverpool’s needs are greater elsewhere, and therefore he is given an ill-deserved second (or third?) chance.
A weakened team picked by Tim Sherwood, and a home defeat to Burnley that caused Villa to drop two places.
For evidence of the financial might of the Premier League, that drop to 17th cost Villa £2.4m. That’s £600,000 more than they will get for winning the FA Cup next weekend.
Angel Di Maria
If there was a performance to perfectly epitomise the season, it was Di Maria’s 23 minutes at the KC Stadium. Eight touches, three completed passes, three misplaced passes, no shots, no chances created, possession lost four times. You can’t measure ‘arsedness’, but it’s fair to saw the winger registered low on the scale.
Manchester United fans are understandably keen to keep the faith, hopeful that a summer break can help to recharge Di Maria’s batteries. Those hopes seem more optimistic than realistic.
One of Louis van Gaal’s insistences as United manager is for his players to buy into his system and ethos. It’s a similar strategy to the siege mentality Jose Mourinho builds with his sides. The goal with both is to create a culture of ‘us vs them’ in order to raise desire and ambition to succeed. It’s “we’ll show you” added to “we’ll show ourselves”.
This is the “change in behaviour” that Van Gaal demanded from Di Maria earlier this month, but there must be a temptation to cut their losses if Paris St Germain stump up £50m. The suspicion is that the Argentinean always wanted to be a Paris Angel.
As an aside, the list of the last five players to break the transfer record for fees paid by British clubs: Andriy Shevchenko, Robinho, Andy Carroll, Fernando Torres, Angel Di Maria. All I’m saying is think about it next time.
Farewell Radamel. You made us feel sorry for a man who earned over £10m in wages for an elaborate Carlton Cole impression. For that feat alone, you must always be respected.
Another blank on the road to add to a worrying statistic. Rooney has scored one away Premier League goal since March 2014.
After a week in which Ramsey had been trusted with the Queens Park Rangers job on a full-time basis, an emphatic message as to just how hard his task will be. QPR conceded only four fewer goals away from home than 19th-placed Burnley did all season, home and away.
Ramsey’s squad is bloated with players who have showed themselves to be incapable or unwilling to stomach a relegation fight. One would typically advise the new permanent manager to trim the fat from the squad, but that would leave very little but a pile of skin and bones. As this column has previously stated, the only players QPR should want to keep are the ones that will leave.
The last time QPR were relegated, they allowed Harry Redknapp to spend freely in a bid to regain automatic promotion. One suspects Ramsey will not get the luxury of bringing in eight players on permanent deals and eight more on loans. That can only be a good thing for a club that has been gorging on short-termism, but this is going to take time. QPR don’t so much need a cold shower as to be cryogenically frozen before thawing.
A dreary home defeat to end a season that has caused far more frowns than smiles on the blue side of Merseyside. The final-day loss, coupled with Crystal Palace’s win, also meant that Roberto Martinez has taken Everton into the bottom half for the first time in nine years.
Note to Everton: This summer, don’t spend all your transfer budget on one young striker who you then struggle to support.