Newcastle’s announcement of a new contract for Jonas Gutierrez was something of a surprise, there having been no hint that negotiations had been ongoing. Jonas had signed a 5-year deal in 2008 which would have expired at the end of next season. The new 4-year contract ends in 2015, when Jonas will be 32. Contrast this with Kevin Nolan’s efforts to extend his own deal in the summer. Nolan, having turned 29 in June, also wanted a 2 year extension to a contract which had 2 seasons to run. The proposed extension would have also ended in 2015, when Nolan would have been about to turn 33. Yet Newcastle chose not to offer the terms Nolan desired after lengthy negotiations despite his status as club captain, ultimately ending with him leaving for West Ham who were prepared to match his demands. At the time many observers saw this as a sign of penny-pinching, an obsession with cutting costs and an attempt to remove strong characters from the dressing room, all to the detriment of the quality and spirit of the club’s first-choice side. What does the news of Jonas’ new contract tell us on these subjects, and others?
When Jonas first signed he was a full Argentinian international, on what was thought then to be effectively a free transfer. His wages would not have been cheap. An improved contract for him now will be a major one, neither offered nor accepted lightly. Accusations of Ashley penny-pinching appear to be wide of the mark here then. In addition, at 32 Jonas’ market valuation will be a fraction of what it is now. Indeed it is likely only to fall from now on. Theories that only players with resale value will be retained also seem to have been proven incorrect.
If reducing the wage bill doesn’t take priority above everything else, and a refusal to offer contracts reaching beyond players’ 30th birthday isn’t happening, just what might have happened when Nolan was sold? There are obviously differences between the two in the eyes of the club. The main one is the differing athleticism of the two men. I’d say it’s a good bet that Jonas’ ability to spend a full game haring up and down the touchline won’t be appreciably impaired upon entering his early 30s. Nolan, on the other hand, for all the good work he did for the club, looked to be struggling to get around and keep up with his central midfield adversaries even last season. Another four years might have made a big difference to someone who had always struggled for fitness and appeared to be waning already. The other difference might be that the club asessed the squad, thought about who needed to be replaced for the club to move forward, and decided that Jonas was integral to the plan for the next few years and Kevin Nolan was not. In short, maybe they just didn’t fancy Nolan. For someone playing in central midfield, sometimes the game passed him by because of a lack of technical passing ability and when added to the athletic problems which meant other teams could pass around him, Newcastle possibly thought that an athletic, energetic talented passer might be a worthwhile replacement for the then skipper.
It seems also that Jonas wanted to stay. For all the back-page declarations and badge-kissing, the summer’s departed millionaires were unable to find a way to reconcile their supposed love for the club with their need for a contract impoved beyond that which the club wished to pay. Jonas, on the other hand, found agreement without public attempts by his agent to alert other clubs, despite others being willing to pay more these days.
After a season opening which has been the most encouraging in years, Jonas’ new contract offers further encouragement for Newcastle supporters. It demonstrates that the summer sales were based on squad analysis and a wish to improve rather than a grim determination solely to slash costs. Following a departing ex-player’s announcement that Jonas would be the next to follow him out of the door (I’ve concealed his identity to preserve the sanity of those who’ve heard enough from him) it’s heartening that the doom-sayers’ predicted exodus has halted for now. Players deemed surplus to requirements will be moved on, and an attempt will be made to keep good ones. The most heartening news of all though, is that good players actually want to stay.