As snow fell heavily in the winter of 1996 Kevin Keegan introduced a player to the Newcastle fans who would be remembered for a variety of contrasting reasons. If you haven’t guessed yet I’m talking about the maverick Colombian Faustino Asprilla. Tino signed for Newcastle for a fee of 6.7 million pounds from Italian giants Parma. He was purchased with the intention of bolstering the Geordies’ attacking options for their title push. Asprilla made an immediate impact in his first game when he came off the bench and swung the momentum in the Toon’s favour. They were trailing to local rivals Middlesbrough 1-0 until Asprilla emerged with 20 minutes to go and instantly become a hit with the fans. He left Steve Vickers in knots with his dazzling footwork before his Cruyff turn and cross set up Steve Watson to level the game which Newcastle then went on to win 2-1.
Despite the start he made Asprilla never really found his feet in terms of his goals for Newcastle and clearly that is the underlining requisite for any striker. His return of 9 goals in 48 domestic games doesn’t make for great reading, and does this stat class Asprilla’s purchase as a bad one? What Tino did do in his time at Newcastle was leave a lasting impression on the Premiership and Newcastle fans though, whether it be the head-butt he dished out to Keith Curle or his trademark goal celebration. Furthermore, his European goals tally makes for rather more pleasant viewing – 9 goals in 11 games – and aren’t the great European nights often those the fans remember most?
One night in particular he lit up St James’ Park, in what is unquestionably Asprilla’s finest moment in the black and white. It is of course the Champions League group stage game against the mighty Barcelona. Barca came to town boasting world stars such as Rivaldo, Luis Enrique and Figo, but the night belonged to one man alone and it will ensure Asprilla remains a cult like figure among the fans for some time to come. For those of you who aren’t aware of that incredible evening Asprilla scored a hat-trick – a penalty and two fantastic headers which resulted in the team winning 3-2. It actually ended up being the last time Tino found the net for Newcastle, and he was sold back to Parma by Kenny Dalglish soon after. Asprilla won the hearts of the fans for his performances in Europe. Another distinctive moment was his celebration against Metz where he removed his shirt and held it aloft on the corner flag. I wonder if Newcastle fans would swap these moments in time? The reason I pose this question is that if Newcastle had never signed the mercurial Colombian maybe the team would have gone onto win the league in 95-96? Surely Asprilla can’t be the scapegoat for Newcastle’s incapability that season, can he?
Since he left Newcastle Asprilla was linked with a shock move to Darlington back in 2002 which never materialised. He has also been in hot water for firing his machine gun on his farm in Colombia, but the latest venture in Asprilla’s life is his purchase of his own Colombian football club, the modestly named Club Athletico Faustino Asprilla. Inevitably Asprilla’s time on Tyneside was seen by some as a failure. Although, he brought a certain showmanship and eccentricity to the team he was consequently considered as a factor in the disappointing climax to the 95-96 season. You may think he revelled with his skill and craft, or you may think his inconsistency and antics on the pitch as well as his lifestyle off it cost Newcastle. Whatever you say about Tino Asprilla there’s no denying his spell in the Premiership has provided the fans with many talking points and fond memories.
Written by Tom MacGregor