Newcastle United has some image rebuilding to do after midfielder Jonas Gutierrez on Thursday revealed that he will never forgive the Premier League club for the way it treated him during his two-year battle with testicular cancer. And yet remarkably, the Argentine says he wants to stay at St James Park beyond the expiration of his contract this summer thanks to the support he’s received from the club’s fans.
In an interview with French TV station Canal+, Gutierrez directs his anger at former Magpies boss Alan Pardew and the directors at the club, but he is overwhelming in his praise for Newcastle’s fans, who supported him throughout his traumatic two-year ordeal with a disease that claimed 8,300 lives in 2013, according to Wikipedia.
"I returned mid-November  and at the beginning to mid-December the manager [then Alan Pardew] said I should find myself another club, that it was best," he says in the interview, according to The Independent. "I understand a lot of things about football, that for the directors it is a business. It is clear that they look after the club's interests, but I think in a situation like that, you need to save [consider] other things, even more if you see I had been playing for five years before having this problem, I was always playing. I won't be able to forgive the way I've been treated. I don't think it was the right time nor the circumstances and I think at times like that, you should look after the individual, the player.”
When asked about the club’s supporters, he says (via The Chronicle): "The people from Newcastle, the fans have behaved amazingly. When I go around the city they congratulate me and say I'm looking very well. Very emotive words that make you very proud when you hear them. People have been so concerned for me and they've sent me those messages."
Apparently, for Gutierrez, the support of the fans trumps the disdain he feels for Newcastle’s team of directors as he concludes: "I know the situation here [at Newcastle] isn't the easiest but I'm going to fight to remain here. Time will tell, what I can do and it's in my control is to leave everything, to give the best of me and see how far I can get."
Gutierrez certainly isn’t the first player to be struck down with a life or career-threatening injury or illness who has made a full recovery, nor will he be the last, but it’s worth noting that the way a club handles delicate situations like these absolutely matters. Why, because fans matter —they are the foundation of this entire ecosystem — and they certainly don’t like to see their heroes simply cast aside as commodities that are no longer useful especially after recovering from a potentially life-threatening illness. Just look at the outpouring of support Gutierrez received from fans via Twitter when he made his official comeback earlier this month.
If Off The Post were former Newcastle coach Alan Pardew or owner Mike Ashley, he would take a page from the Aston Villa book of how to treat former players that have been forced to battle horrible illnesses like cancer -- that is, treat them like heroes, because that’s exactly what they are: heroes who have been forced to fight for their lives, and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of any damn soccer scores. This is not to say that the player should have immediately been reinstated to the first team, but he should have received a much larger welcoming back from the club than he did, in addition to being given a far wider berth to reinstate himself in the club’s first team than the three weeks or so that Pardew allegedly gave him.
Don’t be surprised if the likes of Facebook and Twitter blow up now with irate fans reacting to the way Newcastle handled Gutierrez’s return from cancer, because the player’s comments only just hit the Web late Wednesday, with him tweeting the following on Thursday: “A club is not about a owner, a manager or a player, is about the fans and I proud about the fans of newcastle, thanks for the support and love, that is the most important (thing).” Amen.