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Nolberto Solano interview

Nolberto Solano has never shied away from blowing his own trumpet. But although the Peruvian’s been instrumental in some of the best football the Toon Army have ever seen, putting chances on a plate for Alan Shearer under the late Sir Bobby Robson, you won’t find the adopted Geordie making a song and dance about himself.

Instead of waxing lyrical about his own past, the former Newcastle winger is more likely to create the sweet music of salsa, thanks to a life-long love affair with the trumpet.Having called it quits as a player following a spell with Hartlepool, you’d think the 37-year-old maestro who calls Newcastle home would have more time on his hands to hone his musical skills.
Instead, he’s busy coaching Northern League side Newcastle Benfield as well as the Magpies’ under-lls. But he’s not too tied up to tackle your posers on everything from Wor A! to Maradona to, er, guinea pigs. Brace yourselves...

Were you inspired to go into football after Peru qualified for the 1978 and 1982 World Cups? How big is football in Peru?

Tom Errington, via email Sure, that was one of my main motivations and inspirations when I was a kid. They made me dream of one day playing for the national team. We had great players like Teofilo Cubillas in 1978 - who scored that amazing goal with the outside of his foot against Scotland - and it made me realise how special it was to play for Peru and how much the team meant to the whole country. The entire nation stopped to watch them in the World Cup. There is still the same passion in Peru.

fact-fileWho were your heroes growing up?

My real heroes were my parents because we were a really big family - seven brothers in all but I was lucky they worked so hard to give us the best and make sure I was able to fulfil my dreams. If it wasn’t for them I would not have had a life in football. I grew up in San Miguel near Lima city centre. My dad was working as a mechanic fixing boats in the navy.

You joined Boca Juniors in 1997-a team that included Diego Maradona. What was it like playing with him and what is your favourite Maradona story from your time there?

Is it true he called you ‘el maestrito’? Rad Lutek, via Facebook It was a dream come true to play with Maradona. I used to wish that one day I could play against him for Peru. Then my agent called me to say Boca were interested in me and it worked out perfectly, because Maradona decided to come back to his old club. Suddenly he was one of my team-mates. Unbelievable. The outstanding memory I have of him was in a hotel ahead of one of our home games. All the players had to share a room apart from Maradona, who had his own suite. Still, if you wanted extras and anything from the mini-bar, everyone had to pay their own way. For the hotel, he was no exception. We’d checked out and everyone was leaving when suddenly the girl on reception shouted out: “Excuse me, Mr Maradona, you have to pay your bill!" Maradona frowned and said, "What?” She told him it was club rules, to which he replied: “Tell the club that tonight there will be 60,000 people there because of me, so they can pay the f***ing bill” - and he carried on walking.

As for the nickname, he was very impressed with me when I started and the way I used to practise free-kicks before the game. The manager said: “Diego, go with the Peruvian and practise with him.” I used to bend them this way and that, but having him next to me watching meant there was a lot of pressure.
He was full of praise and encouragement, though. Then when he had a press conference, he called me the ‘Little Master’. That was something that made me very proud.

What convinced you to sign for Newcastle in 1998? Were any other teams in for you?

It was always my dream to play in Europe but to be honest, I knew little about English football and even less about Newcastle. It was only a year after I came that the Premier League started to become more popular around the world. I was thinking of Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and I would have taken the opportunity to play anywhere. I didn’t realise it would be England, but I knew about [Faustino] Asprilla’s hat-trick for Newcastle against Barcelona. So when my agent told me Newcastle wanted me, I thought it would be fantastic, because it was clear they were a big club. I count myself as very lucky to have come here.
Everything changed for me - the way you play, the pace of the game, the quality of the pitches, and it was difficult when I joined because of the language barrier. But that is all part of the experience. In my head I was always thinking, "You’re here to play football - that is why you are here - so keep going” and I knew everything would fall into place as I learned the language. My first aim had to be to get into the first team. Newcastle is a small town compared to Buenos Aires but that is what I like about it and that is why I still live here. It is a very easy place to live. Everything is so close. Nobby, I was there for your first reserve game for Newcastle where you scored.

There was a pretty impressive turnout: what did you make of that?

I still remember that game because I didn’t realise how excited the fans were about me until then. When the manager [Kenny Dalglish] told me I was playing I couldn’t understand anyway, because my English was zero.
I eventually found out it was a practice game, so I thought it wouid be in an empty stadium. But there were lots of people there, and it was only then that someone told me they were only there to watch me. I was really surprised. But it said a lot about Newcastle fans. A lot of things felt strange at first, especially as Dalglish was sacked a few games into the season.

Going from Ruud Gullit to Bobby Robson, there was a drastic change in the team’s fortunes. What did Uncle Bobby do to turn things around and where does he rank among the managers you’ve played under?

In football, the first thing you need in a manager is respect, and we all had that for Bobby because of what he had done in football. He had been at huge clubs, won lots of things and managed England. Day by day, you get to know how he did it, but the key thing for him was making sure everyone worked hard and always did the right things. You had to be on time. You ate together. You left the training ground together. That pulled everyone together and allowed everyone to show their own quality. I’ve worked with some excellent managers, but with respect, Bobby was ahead of them.

I still believe that if Craig Bellamy hadn’t got injured in 2001-02, we would have gone close to winning the title. Was this the feeling in the dressing room too?

Ross Hauser, via Facebook He was a big miss for us, but that season we were not really strong enough defensively to win the title.
We always seemed to have to come back from behind; still, we were a very good attacking team so that was not usually a problem. Newcastle have been consistent this season because they have been solid. Alan Pardew is clearly a clever manager.

nolberto-solano-2Which do you prefer: Peruvian Pisco brandy or Newcastle Brown Ale?

 I very much like Newkie Brown but I am staying with Pisco. Cheers!

Is it true you once phoned Bobby Robson in the early hours and played the trumpet down the phone to him?

James Docherty, via Twitter I remember doing it once but I don’t remember it being in the middle of the night! All the players knew that I played the trumpet but Bobby didn’t. When I was injured I would bring my trumpet into the dressing room, and when the lads went out to train and Bobby got them in a huddle before they started work, I used to blow my trumpet and he looked up, saw it was me and took it in the right way. He had a good sense of humour so ^ he could see it was a good laugh.

Have you tried either guinea pig or alpacas, which are eaten in some areas of Peru as indigenous animals?

I suppose guinea pig is the most famous Peruvian speciality and yes, I have tried it. Believe it or not, it is very nice when it is barbecued. I would recommend that visitors to Peru check it out, though it doesn't look too good because it looks like a rat. Some people might eat alpaca meat in the mountains but I didn’t think it was allowed.

Duncan Ferguson, Temuri Ketsbaia, Craig Bellamy, Laurent Robert: you played with some genuine nutcases at Newcastle! Who was the craziest?

I would have to say Temuri. He was a great lad but he was mad. You just have to look at that time he scored and started kicking the hoarding. I remember once when he fell over in a training session - I had never seen anyone as mad and angry. He was very emotional.

Is there really a Newcastle United based in Lima now, thanks to you?

Not to my knowledge but it would be great if one was set up. Hopefully someone in Lima will see this and get it going. But there could be a Newcastle side there this year because I am hoping to get Alan Shearer and Michael Owen over there for my testimonial match in May. They would love the place!

How did your band the Geordie Latinos come about?

I have a real passion for music. I played a lot when I was growing up but then football got in the way. When I moved to Newcastle, I met a few professional musicians asking me to rehearse with them to play some salsa and it all went from there. We called ourselves the Geordie Latinos because half the band was Geordie and the rest were from Latin America.
We’ve played plenty of gigs but there is nothing else planned at the moment.

You were player of the season in your one year at Aston Villa - what was the key to your success at the club?

It was unfortunate that I had to leave Newcastle but I wasn’t happy with Bobby for leaving me out of the team too often. It was a challenge to go to Villa because it is a really big club and I was eager to play every game and try to do my best. It was a great time. I met [fellow South Americans] Juan Pablo Angel and Ulises de la Cruz and we become good friends. Plus we finished above Newcastle in my full season there!

But when I later returned to Newcastle, we were 14th in the league with Sou ness in charge, and we finished in the top seven.

How emotional was it, going back to Peru and winning the league with Universitario?

It wasn’t in my mind to go back to Peru but when I went to Greece for six months and didn’t enjoy it much, it made me realise how much I was missing home. I had been away from Lima for 12 years. At the same time, the manager was a good friend of mine, Juan Reynoso -1 am godfather to his son.
He convinced me to go back. Everyone was shocked but it worked out really well as we won the league. That gave me a lot of pride.

Have you ever visited Machu Picchu, or is walking the Inca Trail something you have planned once you’ve hung up your boots?

I went there in 1998: we had a training camp in Cusco because we were going to play Bolivia away at high altitude. The manager took us all there as a  special treat. It was really good fun -    it is an amazing piece of history. I haven’t done the Inca Trail but that could be one for the future, as long as my legs can take it.

You won 'free-kick taker of the year’ in 2006. Who do you think is the best free-kick taker of your generation or any other: Beckham, Zola, Juninho, Seb Larsson - Ryan Taylor?!

That’s news to me - where is my trophy? Anyway, it has to be Juninho - the one who played for Lyon. He was phenomenal at free-kicks. His technique and accuracy were incredible. He must have hit the target with 95 per cent of his free-kicks. Everyone you mentioned were or are great free-kick takers, but he was out on his own.

After West Ham, you ployed for five clubs in four years: what motivated you to play in the Football League?

I carried on because when you love playing football it is difficult to walk away from the game. OK, it was not the same after Newcastle, but I used to play football for nothing with my friends with no people watching, so why should you stop playing?


Apparently your head was on a postage stamp back in Peru. How surreal was that?!

That’s almost true, but my face wasn’t on stamps back home - it was on telephone cards. That was pretty weird because when I went back every telephone box seemed to have my photo on it! I got sick of seeing my face everywhere but 1 saved a few of them to show my kids.

Who was the best player you played with and against?

Diego Maradona was way past his best when we were at Boca Juniors together. For me, it would have to be Kieron Dyer at Newcastle. We seemed to be on the same wavelength and we linked well together. He was very clever but also very skilful. It is just a shame that he has had injury problems.  In terms of the best players I have played against, Ashley Cole always made sure I had a lot of work to do because he went forward all the time. There is also Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Thierry Henry, Alessandro del Piero in the Champions League and Lionel Messi in a World Cup qualifier. He was unstoppable, but that is normal.

How did it come about that your wedding was screened live on TV in Peru? Whose idea was this and was the missus OK with it?

Ha ha ha! It was my agent’s idea and came about because I suddenly became well known having gone to Boca Juniors - not many Peruvians play abroad at a high level. That was one of the highlights of my life. I think everyone expected Maradona to come to the wedding but that did not happen. My agent spoke to a television company and they were happy to pay the full bill for the wedding so the cameras were more than welcome.

Do you look back on your international career with any regrets? Why weren’t Peru able to qualify for a World Cup during your time as a player?

Ben Crany, Twitter It has always been very difficult for Peru to qualify and always will be. We went into decline after the 1982 World Cup. The closest we came was in 1998, when we missed out to Chile on goal difference. It will always be tough because we are competing against sides like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, who have players all around the world. We don’t have many playing at a high level.

How did the photo shoot with you holding a gun to a Uruguay shirt come about in 2008? What was the reaction to that like?

I have to admit that was, to say the least, a bit silly. I remember the journalist setting the photo up saying “We have to kill the game”, as if to say win the game. I didn't realise how stupid I was until the photo was published. I went mad with them. The reaction was terrible but it was my own fault.

What made you decide to take up the reins at Newcastle Benfield? And is the ultimate aim to one day be Newcastle manager?

My friend called me to say their chairman was coming to see me: they knew I was taking my FA coaching badges and they wanted me to take over the team. I was pleased to do that because coaching is a new chapter in my life and this will help me. Starting at a low level will help me to understand the game. I have effectively hung up my boots but I need to sort things out with Hartlepool first and I think I will stick to coaching with Benfield. As for the Newcastle job, I can only dream.

Two stints at Newcastle, one at Hull and Hartlepool: just what is so good about the North East? After so long there, do you feel like a native?

There is the amazing passion for football here, but it’s the friendliness of the people that makes it so special. That is the main reason I am up here. Do I feel like a Geordie? Why aye man!

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