Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez discusses the state of his squad ahead of the Magpies clash with Tottenham.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — With the Premier League turning 25 on Aug. 15, there is naturally nostalgia to be had about those first early years, in which England’s top division gradually opened up to foreign imports.
On the lists being produced to commemorate the occasion, Colombia’s first Premier League player, Faustino Asprilla, will probably not get much of a mention. After all, “Tino” scored only nine goals in 48 Premier League games for Newcastle United.
But few players have been more eccentric and beloved than Asprilla. This is someone who turned up to Newcastle wearing a fur coat in the snow following his transfer in 1996 from Parma and didn’t look back from there. Now 47, he has retained an almost cult status on Tyneside, partly because he was in Kevin Keegan’s “The Entertainers” that came close to winning the Premier League in 1996 and partly because there haven’t been many so unique players as the Colombia striker.
With Newcastle now back in the Premier League under Rafa Benitez, ESPN FC caught up with Asprilla to get his opinions on his time in England and the upcoming season.
Q: Thoughts on Newcastle returning to the Premier League this weekend?
A: Happy because it’s a team that is in my heart. They have a stadium that is really special… I hope they can stay in the Premier League for a long time.
Q: How do you feel when fans still remember you?
A: It’s very nice because it means I left a good image of myself and what I did in England was very good and I always appreciate that as the years go by, they still mention me. I watch all the Newcastle games. I go every year to play for the Alan Shearer Foundation.
Q: What was your first impression of Newcastle when you joined in 1996?
A: The weather! In the afternoon it could be cold, in the morning warm, raining at midday and in the night snowing. It was very strange!
Q: Best moments?
A: The three goals against Barcelona, the games against Liverpool.
Asprilla scored just nine goals for Newcastle but quickly began an unforgettable cult hero.
Q: Is it true you used to tell girls that David Ginola was in your house so they would come round?
A: Many times I had to trick them. They asked, ‘Who is in your house?’ I’d say ‘Ginola’ and they’d all come because they wanted to see him. Then they’d get here and be ‘where is Ginola?’ I said, ‘He’ll be back in five minutes!’ Ginola was very chilled out. So was Shearer.
Q: When you look back at how close you got to winning the title under Kevin Keegan, does it still hurt that you didn’t manage to get over the line?
A: It’ll be there all my life. It’ll never go away. We were so close to winning the league and to lose to [like we did] is something I’ll never be able to get over.
Q: Has the growth of the Premier League surprised you?
A: A lot. The organization [the Premier League] improved English football a lot, bringing in foreigners to globalized English football.
Q: Why do you think there aren’t more Colombian players in England?
A: Because the Colombians that have gone to England haven’t been able to succeed. It’s been complicated. But in the future we will have some.
Q: Is it true you almost signed for Darlington?
A: I was going to sign for Darlington, yes, but the contract was one thing on the phone and another when I got there.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.