Jonas Gutierrez was considered so important to Argentina by Diego Maradona that he once announced his team was "Mascherano, Messi, Jonas and eight more." Sadly for the midfielder, it seems current Albiceleste coach Sergio Batista does not feel the same way, omitting him from the last six matches.
Yet the 27-year-old is adored by supporters of Newcastle United and, as he prepares to make his 100th appearance for the club tonight at home to Manchester United, FIFA.com caught up with him for a chat about the Magpies, Maradona, Lionel Messi, this year's Copa America and more.
FIFA.com: Jonas, Newcastle have defied many people's expectations so far this season. Why do you think the club has done so well after promotion?
Jonas Gutierrez: We have a good squad of players and a terrific team spirit. Some of our results have been outstanding - for example the heavy home wins over Aston Villa, Sunderland and West Ham - but at the same time we have let ourselves down against teams like Stoke and Blackpool, who have come to St James’ Park and won.
What was your reaction to the sacking of Chris Hughton and are you enjoying playing under Alan Pardew?
The players enjoyed playing for Chris and we enjoy playing for Alan too. It’s football, changes happen, and you just have to move on and play your best in every game.
Arguably the game of this Premier League season was the 4-4 draw with Arsenal, when Newcastle recovered from 4-0 down. What was that like to play in?
Crazy. The first half was horrendous; the second phenomenal! I have never played in a game like it. And what’s more, both teams could have got a fifth in injury time, can you imagine that? Unbelievable! Cheik Tiote’s goal to equalise was outstanding, it was his first for the club and you should have seen his celebration! John Carver (Newcastle's assistant manager) was telling us all to calm down after Cheik’s goal and concentrate, but we wanted the winner!
You played in the now famous 5-1 defeat of Sunderland. Were you aware of how important this game is to the Newcastle fans and did this spur the side on to perform?
Without a doubt, it’s the game of the season here in the North East and it was a very memorable day. But when we went to Sunderland in January and were only denied victory in the last minute, it was heartbreaking for the team and the fans. However, we didn’t lose to them in either game and a 6-2 aggregate win in our favour keeps us happy! I see the fans when I am out and all they want to talk about is Newcastle United and of course after those two games, they kept patting me on the back and saying ‘well done.’
Has the presence of fellow Argentinian Fabricio Coloccini helped you settle at Newcastle United. Do you keep in contact with any other of your compatriots in the Premier League?
Yes, it’s great having Colo here with me. We also have Jose Enrique here, another Spanish-speaking player, so there is plenty of company. And don’t forget Xisco too, who’s currently out on loan at Deportivo. Marcos Angeleri is down the road at Sunderland and of course there are other lads at clubs like Man City, so we’re not alone!
The Newcastle fans are famous for their vocal support. How do they compare to the supporters in Mallorca and back in Argentina?
They are incredibly passionate and give their all for the team. It really is great to play for them both at home and away, where they follow us in large numbers. The fans in Argentina are similar because they have a fantastic desire for the team to do well.
Tell us about the Spiderman mask that you celebrate with. Where did the idea come from?
When I was in Mallorca, I went to the cinema and that’s when I first saw it. It all took off from there. You saw it a few times last season in the Championship but when I scored this season at Manchester City, I didn’t have it with me, so just celebrated anyway. But it wasn’t a good day as we lost the game. It’s no good scoring if you don’t get any points. That’s most important thing for me.
Turning to Argentina, you got to the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. Were you disappointed not to go further in the competition with the strength of the squad?
Yes. We all felt we had a good chance to go further in the competition than we did. We had a good team and a strong squad, but against the Germans we just had a terrible day. That’s football, it happens.
How was it playing under a legend like Diego Maradona? Do you miss him as coach?
Diego is a legend in Argentina and rightly so. It was a pleasure to play for him, he was unique as a manager and brought a tremendous amount to the team.
You were played in defence during the World Cup. Did you enjoy that role?
Well, it was unusual but you are playing for Argentina so it was not a problem for me.
The first half was horrendous; the second phenomenal! I have never played in a game like it.
You weren't called up by Sergio Batista to face Spain in September. Is that frustrating or do you take it as a new challenge to work hard and be called again?
Absolutely. All I will do is work hard and play my best for Newcastle United and just see what happens.
Having played alongside Lionel Messi, were you pleased he won the FIFA Ballon d'Or and did you think he was a deserving winner?
Hugely deserving, there is no doubt he is the outstanding player in world football right now, a really special talent that you only see once in a while.
Argentina have lost the last two Copa America finals and haven't won the competition since 1993. Do you feel that you are favourites for the tournament this year, with it being played in your country?
It is good that the tournament is being played in Argentina but that does not mean that we are automatically the favourites. Yes, we have a good chance but there are a lot of good teams competing who are capable of challenging for first place.
You have been drawn alongside Japan in this year’s tournament. Are you looking forward to facing a team from outside of South America?
Whatever competition you’re playing in, I think it’s great when you play teams from other continents, as it’s always a test to pit yourself against different styles of play. That’s what is so wonderful about international football.
There is no doubt he is the outstanding player in world football right now, a really special talent that you only see once in a while.