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First appeared in the Guardian on 10.01.04
Nolberto Solano is a man refusing to blow his own trumpet. This comes as both a bit of a shame and a bit of a surprise given that the Peruvian must be the most famous trumpet- playing footballer ever. Solano's answerphone used to feature a tootling introduction from himself; now it is the theme from the Pink Panther that greets callers.
He used to bring his trumpet into the dressing room at Newcastle; now its appearances are limited to the training ground. It is said Sir Bobby Robson is not a fan.
Whether that is of Solano himself or of Solano's trumpet is a moot point. When Robson said last week that there are players who are "buyable" at Newcastle United it was assumed that Solano is one of them. Robson said that David O'Leary has not contacted him but did say there is "something in the air with Aston Villa" regarding Solano.
Even after upbeat Solano performances against Southampton and Leeds it seems that, as Johnny Cash said, the music has all gone between Robson and Solano.
"It's nice, I like it - somebody is interested in me," Solano said of transfer speculation. "It's better than nobody. But it's rumour, not the truth. The club know my situation, what's really happening. I'm very happy, I'm very pleased to be at this club and I'm not pushing to go. I'm a Geordie adopted. It would be difficult for me now after five years to move again and start again. If I got the choice to stay here I would stay but if it's not like that then I will have to move. But I will always have the people here and the fans."
Those fans made a point of singing Solano's name at St James' Park on Wednesday night and the chances are they will still be doing so once January has passed. Aston Villa do not have a large kitty for transfers and Solano's wages at Newcastle would crack the ceiling at Villa Park. Besides, Solano's wife is doing a college course that does not finish until June and Lee Bowyer, the man who displaced Solano earlier in the season, is injured and not returning imminently. In many supporters' eyes Bowyer should not have been ahead of Solano anyway. Robson thinks differently - Solano has only six league starts this season - and the perfunctory handshake when he substituted Solano once again on Wednesday told of a relationship bruised.
"I'm happy to be starting games, especially after the great result at Southampton," Solano said. "It hasn't been easy. I've played for Newcastle for five years and everybody always mentions that. Sometimes it's been disappointing after being here a long time and playing all the time. Sometimes I've not even been in the squad. But now I've got the chance again. That's six games I've started [consecutively] and there is only one way to prove to the manager that I'm back to my best form and that is to work hard. There is only one way, you've got to keep your head right and just wait.
"The situation has been a little bit strange for me, sometimes I'm in the team, sometimes I'm not in the squad. But it's part of football. I'm 29 years old and experienced. At the beginning I was disappointed but, like I say, there is only one way back: hard work. Sometimes it has been difficult but my family, friends have been great. Good moments, bad moments, it's football. I have had to be strong."
Signed from Boca Juniors by Kenny Dalglish in 1998 for the interesting official sum of £2,763,958 - Diego Maradona had christened Solano the Little Maestro at the Argentinian club - Robson's dissatisfaction with Solano stems from his trips back to South America to play for Peru. At various stages Robson has sought assurances from Solano that he would call an end to transatlantic travel but Solano has pressed on. In November in Lima he scored with a header for Peru against Brazil in a 1-1 World Cup qualifier - Rivaldo scored for the Brazilians - and Solano said he intends to play in the next fixture, too, against Colombia at the end of March. It is likely he would miss Newcastle's home game with Everton.
"I will go home," Solano said of the Colombia game. "I don't think it causes me a problem here, I have a good relationship with the manager. It's OK, he [Robson] understands. I think it's good for a club to have internationals and it would be disappointing for people in Peru. There are only four Peruvians playing in Europe and it is difficult to say no to the national team. The people say: 'Are you not proud to play for Peru?' The manager knows now what's happening and he has the excuse to let me go. He has plenty of players and it's the chance to play others. I understand it's difficult for the club but also remember that you have to play internationals for your work permit in the Premier League."
Robson is less agreeable to the situation than these words suggest. But, while Bowyer is injured and Kieron Dyer fills in up front, Solano occupies the right flank as he has done for 5 seasons. In that time Newcastle have beaten tomorrow's opponents Manchester United only twice in 11 league meetings. But the victories over Southampton and Leeds have fostered confidence, as has Dyer's forward role.
"Kieron used to play in that position," enthused Solano. "When Craig Bellamy was injured before, Kieron was always first choice to play in that position. Sometimes we need somebody with pace up front to play beside Alan because it gives the midfield more variety to choose. That's why against Southampton we looked a different team to two or three games ago. With Kieron there we can give and go again, we have more choices. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a cross in to Alan Shearer. Alan can get a bit sick about that but it's difficult - jumping, jumping and jumping, especially at his age. I like to give him a good pass so he doesn't have to fight all the time. That happened before but maybe when it was him and Shola [Ameobi] we played long ball. With Kieron there we try and play more football. We can play feet to Kieron or cross to Alan. We know Alan is a killer. As he says: 'Put the ball in the box and I'll do my job.'
"It's not news that Manchester United is one of the best teams in the world. We have to go and play confidently and not be afraid. I know they have experienced players but so have we. If we want to be in the top four we have to prove ourselves against the top sides, not just against small teams. We need to beat Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea. We need to concentrate more. If you give Manchester one chance they score. Van Nistelrooy, Giggs, Scholes, you give them a chance and they kill you. That's what happened to us here when they beat us 6-2 or the last time 2-1. It's all about mistakes. If someone scores a goal against you like Laurent Robert's against Tottenham, then you accept that. But mistakes, you cannot allow that. We need to be more consistent."
Which, of course, is what the chairman
Freddy Shepherd said before the Southampton game. "The chairman can
do anything and say anything he wants. It would be better if he had said
it face to face to the players. If I wanted to say something to him I
wouldn't call you and say, 'please tell the chairman this is my opinion'.
So I don't know if it was right. We are professional, we are proud, we
know the supporters travelled however many miles it is to Southampton. We