“Your buddies were here the other night!”

The Spanish-speaking Newcastle United no longer needed Sir Bobby Robson’s blue-chip brigade. They had spread their wings and gone out without their tour guides.

The British and Irish core of magpies – Alan Shearer, Rob Lee, Shay Given, Gary Speed. Warren Barton et al. had kept the entertainers tradition of meeting at the right times in the city center, and they knew the staff who worked on the doors and in their favorite places.

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After introducing the club’s Spanish speakers to the wonders of the Quayside, they were soon informed that these newcomers had met for their own private get-together. “Really? Well, they didn’t tell us!” was the amusing answer.

Obviously, Newcastle shaped these exotic importers who followed in Nolberto Solano’s footsteps and made the leap from South America straight to the Premier League. With varying degrees of success.

At one point in 2000, the Magpies had five South Americans on their books – Solano, Clarence Acuna, Daniel Cordone, Christian Bassedas, and Diego Gavilan – and they all made their own way to shopping the Northeast.

To this day, Bassedas misses going to the pub with his Geordie neighbor Bruce; Acuna laughs as he remembers how Newcastle supporters would take off their shirts in all weathers; the hairs on the back of Gavilan’s neck stand on end when he remembers walking in front of a crowded St. James’ Park; and Cordone saved his clippings from the era and even underlined his player ratings with a red pen.

Cordone was a bit of a character, of course, and the wolf tattoos were just the beginning. The Argentine had to undergo surgery after his debut to remove his soldered earrings – players are not allowed to wear jewelry even if it’s covered – and Sir Bobby joked that the operation made cordone easier because the striker had so much gold with him had carried around.

Daniel Cordone celebrates James after scoring for Newcastle United against Derby County at St James’ Park on 23 August 2000

Let’s just say Cordone caused a stir from the moment he walked into the locker room, as former teammate Warren Barton recalls.

“It took us about 20 minutes to process his tattoos and hairstyle,” Barton told ChronicleLive.

“If you imagine what an Argentine will be like, it was him: the headband, the T-shirts with the sleeves, his football style. There was something going on everywhere!

“Some days Daniel could be very good and other days it wouldn’t work for him, but he was someone else who tried. He wanted to get to know the players. He was a little in awe of Alan, but like Christian, he tried it.

“He was good around him. It was a shame because neither of us really spoke Spanish, but we tried. Bobby was great trying to do his broken spanglish with them. No wonder they were confused. Be our interpreter! “

Cordone’s compatriot Bassedas also arrived in 2000 and the midfielder’s ability to pass had piqued the interest of chief scout Charlie Woods and assistant manager Mick Wadsworth.

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Moving thousands of miles from home, Bassedas admits it was “difficult” to get to know his new teammates as he learned a new language after his £ 3.5m move from Velez Sarsfield.

In retrospect, the former Argentina international would have “liked to adapt faster and better”, but a toe injury didn’t help.

“Gary Speed ​​has been very good for me,” Bassedas told ChronicleLive. “I always remember him fondly and what happened to him made me very sad. He was a great leader.

“It was nice to have shared these years with these guys. Thanks to Newcastle United, I still have a nice relationship with some of them today.

“The Geordies were also fantastic and very friendly. I’ve met some very good ones. I’m so grateful for these years.”

Christian Bassedas holds Roy Keane back during the Newcastle United game against Manchester United at St James’ Park on December 30, 2000

Obviously, many Peruvians, Argentinians, Chileans and Paraguayans brag about the Premier League today, but at the time no other club in the Premier League had targeted the South American market as heavily as Newcastle.

Some imports have been more successful than others, and that’s before you even mention Fumaca, but Clarence Acuna quickly became a favorite with his teammates who welcomed his graininess on the field.

Acuna actually stayed with the club for three years – only Solano spent longer at Tyneside – and the former midfielder believes it naturally helped him “get used to everything quickly”.

“I fell in love with Newcastle, St James’ Park and the people,” Acuna told ChronicleLive. “I loved their passion for the game and playing in front of 52,000 fans was great. It was a nice experience.”

To put Newcastle’s transfer policy into perspective: Of the ten teams that ended up over the Magpies in the top half of the table in 2001, only Arsenal, Sunderland, Chelsea and Aston Villa had at least one South American in the first-team squad. No other club came close to the five of the black and white.

Clarence Acuna is congratulated by Nikos Dabizas after winning a penalty for Newcastle United against Ipswich Town at St James' Park on March 16, 2002

Clarence Acuna is congratulated by Nikos Dabizas after winning a penalty for Newcastle United against Ipswich Town at St James’ Park on March 16, 2002

Wadsworth is the first to admit that after Solano he is “not so sure that this period was so successful for the South Americans” but he believes Bassedas was “by far the best player”.

“Bassedas was just so unlucky.” Wadsworth told ChronicleLive. “He sustained a serious toe injury early on and was never really right after that.

“It was a shame because he was a great player. I’ve watched him a couple of times. His résumé was really good. He won a Copa Libertadores in Velez. He had 20 caps for Argentina so you knew he didn’t Duffer was. “

“It always got him very upset that it didn’t work out the way he wanted it to. It was really tough for him. He was a great boy. He couldn’t speak a word of the Queen when he came and within You could talk to him for about three months. He loved living in Newcastle. “

So what was the rationale behind the steps for Bassedas et al.? Wadsworth admits that for Sir Bobby’s first two years at the club, Newcastle “didn’t have large sums to spend”, “so we had to duck and dive a little”.

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Horacio Lorda, a friend of Sir Bobby’s in South America, had established connections with Wadsworth, and Chief Scout Charlie Woods was one of the few people in the club who met the talent scout in person.

“First and foremost, Horacio was a vet and once I was out he took me to the racecourse in Buenos Aires and all the coaches were very respectful of him,” Woods told ChronicleLive.

“He was known in racing circles as a vet and then he decided to play football and that’s how it happened.”

Work permits were an obvious stumbling block, but if the target was not a regular, high-level international, Newcastle would check to see if they had a European passport or a European relative.

Solano and his Spanish colleague Marcelino then helped the newcomers settle in, and as mentioned earlier, Sir Bobby spoke a little Spanish from his time in Barcelona.

Diego Gavilan had learned English at school and the winger never forgot how Sir Bobby said “Welcome to England” after Jaap Stam left the slender Paraguayan with a bloody sock; the Manchester United defender had raked his cleats on Gavilan’s leg on his home debut at St. James’ Park.

“Sir Bobby was like a father to me,” Gavilan told ChronicleLive. “He taught me a lot about football and professional life off the field too. He was a very influential person at the beginning of my career.”

But politics was abandoned in 2001 – Wadsworth left the club that summer – and Newcastle began targeting British prospects like Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Jenas and some talent from the continent like Laurent Robert instead.

In some ways, however, the South Americans have helped pave the way for successors in the Premier League. Jonas Gutierrez already knew Newcastle from Cordone and Bassedas playing for his youth club Velez Sarsfield, while Miguel Almiron consulted Gavilan before moving to St James’ Park in January 2019.

It may not be the legacy they dreamed of when they boarded their flight to Newcastle, but it has left its mark. In their own little way.

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