Xisco kid could soon make unlikely United comeback

CAN there really be a future at St James' Park for one of the most derided players in Newcastle United's modern history?


WITH apologies to the lesser-spotted Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid, it is the return of one Francisco Jiménez Tejada to the Newcastle first-team squad which has captured the imagination of the romantics as United prepare to do battle in one of northern Europe’s most picturesque cities.

Perhaps because of the troubled back story which accompanies this most unlikely of second chances for the £5.7million signing, Xisco’s name still manages to generate a certain amount of fascination among Newcastle supporters.

When he scored a hat-trick for the club’s under-21 side last month, he had the dubious distinction of trending nationally on social networking site Twitter – testament to an enduring appeal which has little to do with anything he has ever done on the pitch.

Few players have been more important in recent United history, although Xisco’s place in black-and-white folklore is as part of a chaotic and occasionally catastrophic sub-plot to Kevin Keegan’s disastrous demise.

Signed above Keegan’s head on the recommendation of Dennis Wise, his arrival was the catalyst for one of the darkest periods Newcastle have ever known.

His one goal and nine appearances since have barely hinted at a player who once represented his country, but some would argue he has never been afforded an opportunity.

With Alan Pardew now prepared to offer him an olive branch and a sniff of first- team football, the possibility of a comeback which would eclipse anything in recent Newcastle United history is intoxicatingly within sight.

The Magpies boss doused that slightly by saying he would not start tonight in the Group D clash with Club Brugge but his presence alone is evidence of Pardew’s continuing desire to make sure no-one is alienated from his tightly-knit group.

The managere said: “Xisco is there purely because he has worked hard, we feel he has contributed to the group and therefore we have included him on this trip.

“The future for Xisco, hopefully, is a return to playing.

“Like all players, he wants to play and he has not really done anything wrong other than not reach the level of the first team since he has been here.

“We have tried to give him direction and hope that he can forward his career and he is a well-liked player in the group.”

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For Xisco that “direction” still appears to lead away from St James’ Park, but he is lucky to have a manager who is not prepared to go on past reputations.

Pardew, implausibly, is the Spaniard’s fifth Newcastle manager since 2008, yet the player has not played since August 2010 and a brief cameo at Old Trafford.

He added: “I don’t know how much pain he has gone though, if I am honest, I have not really sat down and spoken to him about that.

“My purpose at this club is to try to get the best out of every individual, and I am trying to do that with him.

“I am not sure if he will be involved tonight, if I am honest, but I wanted to bring him into the group just so he felt part of it.”

One player who will get a taste of the action is Cheick Tioté, who will start and has looked “fired up” at the prospect of a first appearance since the reverse of this fixture in October.

Pardew said: “Cheick looked really bright in training. It’s a godsend for him to miss those league games, but have these to focus on and you could see a difference,

“He was the best player in training and the extra rest from not playing at the weekend, that will be a bonus for us.

“Now Colo comes into that category, so that’s been a kind of welcome bonus.”

Injury-wise, Pardew seemed to suggest things are brighter than they had first appeared on Sunday. Although Demba Ba has been left back home as a precaution, Yohan Cabaye has travelled after recovering quickly from his thigh strain.

Pardew added: “Demba has a knock and hasn’t travelled – it’s his injury from last week – but we think he has a chance for Sunday.

“Jonas, I have left behind, and Hatem, both of those to rest, and Danny Simpson hurt his shoulder in Sunday’s game, so he hasn’t travelled.

“With Cabaye it’s much better than we thought. He just had a tightening in his thigh and we got him off just in time because he has a big week with the France game as well.”

Looking to bury another piece of bad news from the weekend, Pardew brushed off queries about the criticism Fabricio Coloccini had encountered in the wake of his red card at Anfield.

Chris Coleman’s description of the admittedly unsightly lunge at Luis Suarez as being a “coward’s challenge” did not go down well at St James’ Park and when it was put to him the tiresome Robbie Savage had, well, savaged him on Match of the Day 2 over the weekend, Pardew’s patience snapped.

He said: “I am not bothered about anybody else’s criticism.

“In my book, he is a fantastic captain and a player who has carried the mantle of captain with honour.

“One tackle mistimed, whether you think intentional or not – some angles suggest that it isn’t, actually, in my view – should not stain what has been a fantastic period for him.

“That’s why he is back in Argentina squad too.”

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David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer