Sunday 25 September 2016

Perez's loyalty is likeable but Newcastle have their price

Louise Taylor

Published 15/11/2015 | 02:30

Ayoze Perez's first-team performances were a rare bright spark in Newcastle's poor start to last season
Ayoze Perez's first-team performances were a rare bright spark in Newcastle's poor start to last season

Ayoze Perez's game is all about subtlety and nuance. Big on clever movement, football intelligence and two-footed technical ability, the Newcastle United forward has the knack of thinking half a yard faster than opponents.

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There are shades of Jari Litmanen - and compliments rarely come bigger - David Silva, Peter Beardsley and Matt Jansen about his three-dimensional, "between the lines" game but, at only 22, Perez has an awful lot to learn.

Wonderful as he invariably is to watch and exhilarating as his change of pace can be, Perez can sometimes perform some of his most eye-catching manoeuvres where he is unlikely to wreak real damage. His decision-making is not yet consistently sound. Those moments when he can be forced into attacking cul-de-sacs serve as reminders of a player still learning - albeit quickly.

There is talk that Manchester United are keen to sign him in January- as are Tottenham, who had a bid for Perez turned down. Meanwhile, Manchester City and Arsenal are said to be waiting in the wings, but it is surely too early for him to move from St James' Park.

After all, it is only in recent weeks that Perez has convinced Steve McClaren to offer him a regular place in the starting line-up and it is no coincidence his renaissance has come in the wake of the Newcastle manager's decision to relocate him from a wide role to a more central, although deep-lying, attacking position.

As adhesive as his close control is, as hard as Perez is to dispossess, there is a real sense that his game could still benefit from quite a bit more of McClaren's coaching. Admittedly, he has scored a respectable 10 goals in 33 Premier League starts, but it remains difficult to fathom precisely where he would fit into Manchester United's starting XI. Spurs could potentially be a better fit and the suspicion is Mauricio Pochettino's management would suit Perez rather better than Louis van Gaal's.

The son of a hotel worker, he grew up in Santa Cruz, northern Tenerife, honing his repertoire of defence-stretching tricks beneath balmy Canary Island skies before joining his local club. After that it was not long before Newcastle's former manager Alan Pardew received a tip-off about his impressive performances for Tenerife in Spain's second tier.

Pardew had little say in the players Newcastle signed but Perez was young, averaging a goal every two games, and, at £1.5m, cheap - so the board approved.

It was initially intended that the new boy would spend the first year on Tyneside honing his craft in Beardsley's Under-21 side - incidentally, conversations with Beardsley helped persuade Perez to sign for Newcastle rather than one of a host of La Liga clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid included, but things moved much faster than expected.

Newcastle's poor start to last season saw the forward catapulted into the first team, where he would prove a rare bright spark in a depressing campaign. Even so, as winter turned to spring and Perez and Newcastle fought relegation under John Carver, he became so physically and mentally exhausted that burnout apparently beckoned. By then, though, he had done enough to get noticed in all the right places. City's David Silva, from the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, offered encouragement and Sir Alex Ferguson confided, over a drink with Pardew, that had he still been managing Manchester United he might well have been after the boy from Tenerife.

Wherever he ends up, Perez needs to be deployed as a second striker or latter-day version of the inside forward. Not a centre-forward, not an orthodox midfielder and not a winger, he initially tended to be deployed on the right or left of the attacking midfield element of Newcastle's 4-2-3-1 formation.

McClaren took time to be convinced that he offered sufficient end product to enhance the first team but, having shifted him to a more central attacking role behind Aleksandar Mitrovic, Newcastle's manager could not be more delighted.

It will be no surprise if the Spain Under-21 player's diligence off the ball, as much as his elegance on it, earns him a promotion to his country's senior squad when international football resumes.

Flanked by Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum, Perez appears capable of lifting McClaren's side into mid-table while also keeping possession and exhilarating a Tyneside crowd who, craving entertainment, hanker for the old days under Kevin Keegan when Beardsley shimmied beneath the floodlights.

If he wants a cautionary tale he need only turn his attentions down the road to Sunderland, where Adam Johnson's stint warming the padded seats in the Etihad Stadium's dugout sent the winger's once promising career hurtling into reverse.

This is why Perez, likeable and extremely sensible, has always claimed it is "too early" for him to leave Newcastle. The biggest danger is not Perez's head being turned but Mike Ashley being tempted by the chance of a quick profit. McClaren, with his team still not clear of relegation waters and dangerous forwards seemingly an endangered species, can be expected to fight to keep a player he relishes coaching but everyone, especially at Newcastle, has their price.

Should Ashley, the club's owner, offer Pardew the extra centre-half, orthodox No9 and high-calibre central midfielder he craves for an exchange, Newcastle's manager would face a dilemma - and Perez could conceivably be sacrificed.

It promises to be an intriguing January at the court of St James'.

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