Once vilified, now idolised, it had been a strange old season for our 25 year old Spaniard.
Ayoze Pérez has now been at Newcastle for half a decade and his time on Tyneside has been anything but boring since joining for £1.8m from LaLiga2 side Tenerife. He’s seen relegation and promotion, to and form the Championship, but this season has to be seen at a huge turning point in his professional career.
With United getting off to the worst possible start in 18/19, a run that saw them dumped out of the League Cup and endure a run of 10 league games without a win, it is fair to say that Pérez suffered the wrath of what has been a pretty patient Geordie crowd of late.
His performances were, in the main, no better or worse than many of his teammates during that early difficult period. A spell that also saw the Magpies have to play without their ‘to be’ talisman Rondon for large periods.
And whilst his relationship with those fans in black and white reached an all time low with him being booed off the pitch when being substituted, his manager kept the faith.
Now, whilst it is fair to say that Rafa Benitez has forgotten more about football that most of us will ever know…even the most optimistic Newcastle fan could not have foreseen just how important a figure Ayoze would become in the second half of the season.
Just 2 goals and 19 shots in the first half of the campaign tells it’s own story. And by the time he’d scored the first of those, it was clear to player and fans alike that the love affair was on the rocks. His winning goal celebration was a virtual two fingers up to those who’d obviously hurt his feelings - but instead of putting those fingers up at the crowd they were planted one in each ear.
The irony that his second half glut of goals is now greeted by his own fans replicating this gesture as ‘his celebration’ may well be lost on some.
Now, with the season over, and a second half of the campaign that must put Pérez near the very top of the fans player of the season standings, there is a good chance he is looking to move away from the club. And is that really so much of a shock?! If nothing else, him being overlooked once more for the senior Spanish squad may force his to consider if a higher profile club might just get him over the line in Red in seasons to come.
Towards the end of the season Rafa commented; ‘If his performances had been more consistent he’d already be playing for Manchester City’. That speaks volumes on a number of levels.
We now have to hope that not only does our Spanish manager stay, but that he can persuade one of his favourite players to do likewise. And who’d have guessed that would be top of our end of season wish list back in January.