EXCLUSIVE: Slap-up dinners have taken Newcastle from famine to feast says Gutierrez
Published 22:30 17/11/11 By Simon Bird
Jonas Gutierrez is recalling his first traumatic season at Newcastle that ended in relegation.
“Sometimes we wouldn’t see a team mate for weeks if they were injured," he says. "We were not together all the time, or getting to know each other.
“Not many of us ate together either...”
Fast forward three years to Alan Pardew’s revitalised Toon, and Gutierrez tells of a lunchtime feast that has just been devoured at the club’s training ground.
Pardew’s squad held an Argentina Day, and delicacies from the country were served up by club chef Liz Hornsby.
The week before, they had France Day with the players who hail from there.
Gutierrez says: “We had Empanadas (pastry nibbles with different fillings), Asado (the Argentine way of grilling meat), crepes, different sauces. We (Gutierrez and countryman and club captain Fabricio Coloccini) talked to the team about our culture and our food.
“It was fantastic - the only thing missing was the red wine. Everyone understood our food culture after that. It was fun.”
The winger nicknamed El Galgo - the greyhound - at former club Velez Sarsfield because of his running style tells the story to illustrate the behind-the-scenes dynamics fuelling Newcastle’s 11-match unbeaten start to the season.
It will be Argentina day again at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, when Gutierrez and Coloccini take on Manchester City and their World Cup team-mates Sergio Aguero - “a giant on the pitch, quiet but funny off it” says Gutierrez - and Pablo Zabaleta.
Gutierrez adds: “For us to go this long unbeaten was unexpected. Manchester City too are unbeaten, so that makes it a special game.
“All the people are now asking, 'What has gone right at Newcastle?'! That is refreshing to hear after what I first experienced.
“The group is so friendly. We have good relationships. On the pitch all the players work hard for each other. We think like a collective, we don’t think about ourselves - we help each other.
”The club in the last few years has gone through so many things. We learned from those bad years.
“This year we have Colo (Coloccini) as the captain, doing a great job, pulling people together. He is a man who only speaks when it is necessary.
"No matter who the player is, if something needs to be said, he will say it. He has carried on the good work of Kevin Nolan, who was a good captain.
“Colo has worked on the new players to help them, that is also important too. Being captain has helped his confidence too.”
It is a far cry from Gutierrez's nightmare debut Newcastle season in 2008-09, after which only the intervention of Diego Maradona kept him on Tyneside.
He said: “It was a decent group of lads. But when you have small differences in the squad, when you don’t get the results, they turn into big ones.
“I have had Keegan, Chris Hughton, Joe Kinnear, Chris again, Alan Shearer, Hughton again and then Alan Pardew. Six changes. But in the last two years it has been Chris and then Alan, so we’re more stable. It is better than having five managers in a year!”
It would have been easier to leave, but he revealed: “We had just been relegated and it was a year from the World Cup and I was in the Argentina squad.
“He [Maradona] told me, 'Jonas, it is OK. As long as you are playing I am happy and I will pick you.' It was a massive relief.
“He could have told me to play in a first division, a top league. Diego Maradona helped me stay here and put the sadness of our relegation right. It has been enjoyable turn it around.”
Gutierrez, who played at played right-back in Argentina’s successful group matches in last year's World Cup, describes his experiences in South Africa as crazy.
“Even though we didn’t win, we had 20,000 waiting for us at Buenos Aires. We could not get out the airport. A bus journey that [usually] takes five minutes took two hours.
“When you see the crazy fans at Newcastle, it is easy to deal with!”
He laughs when reminded of Gary Neville raving about his recent performance at Stoke, which included relentless running and defensive tracking-back.
He adds: “I know that sometimes people assume things and say, 'Ah, he is from abroad, and a winger, he must not do much work.' But my style is suited to the Premier League. I always said this.”
Just like his mate Aguero, he says.
The City hitman was been a revelation so far since his summer move from Atletico Madrid, and Jonas says Aguero takes being Maradona’s son in law in his stride.
“He is a very quiet, funny guy," he said. "Aguero can score, but if not is can be Silva, Nasri, Balotelli.
“Aguero is a huge star. He is married to Maradona’s daughter and has their son. He takes all that very normal. He laughs about what people say.
“Everyone is saying that little boy will have some great genetics in him - Maradona and Aguero!
“People asked me at Newcastle how well Aguero will do. I said, 'Very well, immediately.' He is a fantastic player. He is explosive, small and really strong. When he is one versus one, he is difficult to stop.”
Just like Gutierrez and Newcastle have been so far this season.