Newcastle great Nobby Solano on Peru’s World Cup qualifying chances: ‘We’ve always had to do it the hard way’

In this game of ours, we all have our footballing heroes. Players who make a huge impact on our lives. The relationship often begins at childhood and thanks to the powerful effects of nostalgia, it never truly leaves us. The reasons for admiring a certain player varies. From witnessing a jaw-dropping goal to being the lucky recipient of a shirt at the end of a match, these memories last forever but most importantly, they influence the way you see the game or in many cases, the way you see yourself.

This is how I feel about Nolberto Solano. “Nobby,” as he was affectionately known in England. The Peruvian midfielder with nearly 100 appearances for Peru and 20 goals and arrived at Newcastle in 1998 from Boca Juniors. Diego Maradona used to call him “El Maestrito.” “He hits the ball other players could only dream of,” Maradona once said. It’s true, his right foot of him was made of Inca gold. Alan Shearer confirmed it to me a few months ago.

All these compliments, however, are not the reason why Solano remains special to me. Not even his brief spell of him with my Aston Villa. That was just a proverbial cherry on top. The truth is that Solano’s arrival di lui to England was a key moment because for the first time in my life, others were finally seeing a brown-skinned Peruvian in the limelight. Nolberto Solano – the kid from Callao – was in the Premier League. A first ever for a Peruvian. To me, a 17-year-old kid who was still trying to search for his own identity di lui in a country that yet didn’t understand his culture di lui, Solano’s arrival di lui to Newcastle meant everything.

You can imagine, therefore, why our latest episode of ¡Qué Golazo! is so special to me. Solano, now Peru’s main assistant coach to Ricardo Gareca, sat down to discuss the country’s final push in World Cup qualifiers, his time di lui at Newcastle and England, the future of Peruvian stars and much more. The special note to this episode is that the first part, when talking about Peru, is in Spanish. The second, as he reflects on his playing days in Newcastle, is in English.

Notably, as we enter the international break, his focus right now is fully on Peru, currently sitting in fifth place – an intercontinental position – in South America’s table. Only a point behind Uruguay, their next opponent, so there is still, incredibly, a chance to automatically qualify for Qatar. An amazing achievement, taking in mind that Peru were bottom of the table back in September. It’s credit to Solano, the coaching team and of course, the leadership of the great Ricardo Gareca.

“You don’t stop learning from all the great things Ricardo has [taught you], “Solano said.” Not even just because of all the time we have been together but in general, I have always appreciated him. I think with Ricardo, the most important thing, aside from his technical knowledge of him, I think he’s a great human being. From that injection he has given to the Peruvian player – after so many moments in the past with so much negativity – that also affected me, I was a part of, when I was playing, in four qualifying phases from 1998 until 2005. We went through a very hard period with a lot of criticism, a lot of “it can’t be done” and I think he resuscitated Peruvians, injected the team from its root – that indeed, it can be done. ”

The optimistic attitude is born out of resilience. Nothing is ever easy for Peruvians so the only way to win, as Solano states, is through hard work. This is what Ricardo Gareca has done in his seven years.

“Look, as we always say, we are, humbly, a national team where we have to work for everything. We are not like Brazil or Argentina – obviously great national teams – where there’s a luxury of early qualification,” says Solano. “For us, we’ve always had to do it the hard way. We’ve had to suffer and even now, until the last one, we’re always going to suffer. I think, humbly, that this is a very strong group. We have a squad that knows how to compete in these last few years, and we keep going with that spirit, competitive, against great teams here in South America. Hopefully if God permits, we’ll have another chance of returning to the World Cup. “

“We’re always criticized for not having a great league, not having the quantity of talent that other national teams are privileged to have, and I think that’s been the thinking, but when our players come to the national team, they play well with us. So that’s how we turned competitive, from that humility, from the great person that he [Gareca] is, and everything we’ve done, we keep pushing – we are one team. I think Peru is a team where every piece is needed in order to achieve this great objective, which is to return to the World Cup. ”


His Newcastle days are those of great memories. “I was so pleased to have arrived in a great country, with a great passion for football,” said Solano, remembering his days on Tyneside, “… and a great club too. Newcastle, I had a very, very good welcome . A very good coach in Kenny Dalglish, who gave me the opportunity. Unfortunately after a few months, he was sacked so I was a little bit disappointed, but I had to carry on … Ruud Gullit arrived at the club … but I was very proud to be the first Peruvian to play in the Premier League. I had a great time in England, not only in Newcastle but Aston Villa, West Ham and Leicester City. Hull City and Hartlepool. So I know all the divisions . ”


When I first arrived in England, one of the first things that struck me was that everything was so shiny. I know new. I remember staring out the window after leaving the airport and all the cars on the road were magnificent. The streets were clean. There was no noise. An obvious contrast to Lima. It was an introduction to the differences between a developing world and Europe. Solano, in turn, also saw this. He remembers entering Newcastle’s training ground for the first time.

It was a dream to him.

“The fields were like carpet,” remembers Solano. “We had four or five football pitches and it was amazing to me. Very, very impressed … I was so excited.”

Language was an issue but what helped him settle in a new land, as it was also my experience, was how people warmed up to him. For me, in the south, it was one experience but for Solano, who was in the warm hospitality of the North East, it was quite the other. “I always felt very, very welcome. The people – even though Newcastle is in the north and it’s cold – the people are so nice. They greet you in the street and are so welcoming.”


There was much more in our conversation, too much to decipher in just one article. The important takeaway, however, was that Nolberto Solano – the 5-foot-9 Peruvian who played with Diego Maradona, Alan Shearer and became one of the finest crossers the Premier League ever saw, was now, once again, helping Peruvians reach the dream of playing and being at the World Cup. It happened in 2018 after 36 years. It can happen again.

“Without a doubt, we’re looking to be ready in the best possible way,” he confirmed.

Before we said goodbye, Solano – ever the humble, kind man – decided that was enough about him.

It’s time to celebrate more Peruvians!

“Thank you for this opportunity, to be able to talk to you and everyone,” says Solano. “I congratulate you for your show, you’ve made me feel great. Like Peruvians, we’re also very proud of you. I hope you carry on with this show and more years to come.”

Nolberto Solano. The teenager in me cried when you said that.


To watch the whole episode, where Solano talks more about Peruvians in Europe, his career and his own ambitions as possibly taking over Ricardo Gareca when that day eventually happens, head over to ¡Qué Golazo! on our YouTube channel.

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