STEVE Harper has been surprised to see Newcastle United club-mate Jonas Gutierrez reinvented as an international full-back – but the goalkeeper has no wish to see him play there for the Magpies.
The contrast between Gutierrez’s jobs for club and country could scarcely be more striking.
The 26-year-old played as a left winger in Newcastle’s Championship-winning side but the unpredictable Diego Maradona converted him into a right-back for Argentina’s first two World Cup matches.
The 1986 World Cup winner identified Gutierrez’s work-rate and his ability to start attacks from deep as qualities best utilised at full-back in Argentina’s hugely-talented squad.
But even with a vacancy at right-back for the start of next season, Harper would prefer to see his club-mate return to the position he knows best.
“I’ve never seen him play at right-back before but if you’re Argentinian and Diego Maradona asks you to do something, you do it,” Harper said. “It’s a strange position for him because he is such a great outlet for us on the left wing, but I know he has played in that role before for his country so I’m sure he is happy enough doing it.”
Danny Simpson will miss the start of the coming campaign as he convalesces from a summer foot operation, but Harper will not be pushing manager Chris Hughton to fill the hole with Gutierrez.
“Would I like to see him play there for Newcastle? Not really, because he is such a threat for us going forward and he was one of our best players last season playing on the left wing,” Harper argued.
“He’s going to be a big player for us again next season, but I’d like to see him further up the pitch than right-back. I know full-backs are like wingers these days but I think he is better playing in a more attacking role, certainly that is where he has done well for us.
“He is an exciting player and I’m sure he is looking forward to proving himself back in the Premier League.”
Gutierrez is suspended for Argentina’s final Group B game in South Africa, against Greece. But even before the tournament kicked off, Maradona declared him to be one of the first three men on his team-sheet, along with captain Javier Mascherano and talismanic star Lionel Messi.
The former Mallorca player is no less popular on Tyneside, where his hard-working approach and bubbly personality have endeared him to fans and team-mates alike.
Initially his cult status was based around stories of his trademark goal celebrations with a Spiderman mask.
But although it was never seen in a debut season where he failed to find the net, Gutierrez’s obvious commitment maintained his popularity.
And that only increased when he and compatriot Fabricio Coloccini declined to abandon Newcastle’s sinking ship last summer, staying to help the Magpies return to the Premier League.
He is no less appreciated on the training ground either. “One of the things with Jonas is he will run all day for the team,” Harper reflected. “I remember when he first signed, he did a bleep test and he was waiting for the rest of the players to finish.
“He is probably the fittest player I’ve ever worked with and that means he can get up and down the touchline no matter which position he plays.
“It will be interesting to see how he does at right-back at the World Cup but he is certainly good enough to be on that stage and hold his own against the best players in the world.”
Meanwhile, Norwich City are expected to ask Newcastle for Tim Krul on loan next season if Hexham-born Fraser Forster is not allowed to repeat his successful loan of last term.