With the Premier League title secured weeks ago by Chelsea, and the Champions League qualification places decided over the past week – Arsenal joining Chelsea and Manchester City in qualifying for the group stages of the competition, while Manchester United must navigate a play-off round – there was still Europa League access to play for, but the main focus on the last day of the 2014/15 season was upon the relegation battle. Newcastle would survive with a win at home against West Ham; but if they failed to register their first victory in eleven matches, a win for Hull City – at home to Manchester United – would see them stay up at Newcastle’s expense.
Premier League status is more crucial than ever: even with parachute payments, relegation to the Championship costs clubs around £50 million. Hull’s income for competing in the Championship in 2012/13 was £11.1 million; dwarfed by the £84.5 million they received in 2013/14 for featuring in the Premier League. The discrepancy is set to grow from 2016, when a new television rights deal will see even the bottom-placed Premier League club come away with £99 million.
Jonás Gutiérrez proved Newcastle’s hero, setting up one and scoring another goal to lead Newcastle to a 2-0 success. For a player who returned to the Newcastle first team in early March after an absence nearing two years, this was more than a heartwarming finale: it was an utter vindication of character, an exceptional show of strength and an inspirational feat. Gutiérrez was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the autumn of 2013, and that October underwent surgery in Argentina to remove his left testicle. Upon returning to Newcastle, he was informed by then-manager Alan Pardew – a media darling in England, but as any Newcastle supporter ought to appreciate a human being absolutely lacking in morals – that his services were no longer required. Told to seek another club, he moved to Norwich on loan for the remainder of the 2013/14 season. Under Pardew, Newcastle endured an abject run-in only surpassed by the magnitude of their uselessness this time around.
After a course of chemotherapy, Gutiérrez was given the all-clear last November, and began the process of restoring his position in the Newcastle side. His performances have been perhaps the only bright spot in an abysmal past few months for the club. Today he was at his very best; tough in the tackle, essential in converting defence into attack with his skillful and determined runs through the midfield; and providing the goals that were necessary for Newcastle to ensure their place in next season’s Premier League. He was not quite alone in his endeavours: Vurnon Anita also produced an exceptional display, pressing relentlessly and ever-tidy in possession; and Daryl Janmaat – clearly Newcastle’s player of the season – was typically vigorous driving from right-back.
Anita and Janmaat ought to be central figures in a resurgent Newcastle side come 2015/16. This will require spending on a level not seen under the spiteful, oafish, and duplicitous reign of Mike Ashley; and it will demand too a proper manager, with the unstable, wildly incapable, and sycophantic John Carver having done nothing to suggest he warrants any further employment within football. Janmaat in particular might have other suitors; while Gutiérrez’s future is less clear still, with his contract about to expire. However unlikely, if Newcastle genuinely desire to build a squad – rather than a narrow collection of first-team players who can briefly excel only to be sold on at the nearest opportunity – Gutiérrez could still have a useful part to play.
Whatever, his winning performance today has elevated him from cult figure to the status of club legend. 50,000 fans, disgruntled and disunited – and many more watching and waiting at home and in bars and pubs – came together in his person, as he briefly restored the beauty and the vitality of the game.
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On this day in 1276, after being accepted by Sweden’s bishops, Magnus Ladulås was coronated King of Sweden in Uppsala Cathedral. He had been elected at the Stones of Mora the previous July. As Magnus III, he reigned until his death in December 1290.