Football: Monaco bask in Sonny spells

Simon Turnbull looks at Monaco's Brazilian planning to silence St James' Park
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The Independent Online
When Kenny Dalglish watched his last European tie he saw a striker from South America steal the show. He could be in for a night of deja vu at St James' Park on Tuesday night. This time, however, the experience would be more painful than entertaining.

Dalglish was, as he put it, "on a jolly with Big Al [Hansen]" when he sat in the Milburn Stand in December and watched two late flashes of Faustino Asprilla's unpredictable brilliance overcome the spirited French resistance mustered by Metz and earn Newcastle United a place in the last four of the Uefa Cup. As Asprilla hoisted his shirt on the Gallowgate End corner flag in celebration of his second goal, Dalglish had no inkling that he - and not Kevin Keegan - would be left to rue the yellow card offence which precludes the Colombian, Newcastle's chief inspiration thus far in their European campaign, from playing any part in the first leg of their quarter-final tie with AS Monaco.

Keegan's successor must now look to someone else to support Les Ferdinand at the cutting edge of a team shorn indefinitely of its Shearer. Of greater concern to Dalglish, however, will be the South American who could have Big Alan Hansen running rings round the Newcastle defence with his white marker pen. In Anderson Da Silva - or "Sonny" Anderson, as he prefers to be known - Monaco possess a Brazilian forward sharp enough to cut the Magpies to ribbons.

"I don't think there can be many better strikers in European football," Franck Dumas, the Monaco sweeper and captain, ventured. "Sonny isn't just a finisher of chances. He's a selfless player. He has all the tricks in the world but you will not catch him playing to the gallery." Given the statuesque tendencies of Newcastle's defenders, they will do well enough simply to catch Monaco's front runner on Tuesday night.

Anderson was top scorer in the French first division with 21 goals last season and has a running total of 15 this season for the runaway leaders. One resident on the Dover side of La Manche appreciates his worth. Anderson, in fact, is Arsene Wenger's most expensive purchase. He paid pounds 4m to secure Anderson's transfer from Marseille to Monaco three years ago. And Dalglish would not be the first manager on the European stage this season to lament that transaction.

With the assistance of his Nigerian attacking foil, Victor Ikpeba, Anderson has ripped through no lesser rearguards than those of Borussia Monchengladbach and Hamburg in the last two rounds of the Uefa Cup. Monaco won away from home on both occasions and Anderson's rapier cutting edge is the most likely cause of what would be only the second wound inflicted on Newcastle's otherwise undamaged home record in European competition. Only once have they failed to beat continental opposition at St James' Park: in 1977, when Bastia delivered the last knockout blow suffered by an English club against French league representatives.

Despite his rise to prominence in Europe, Anderson has yet to be called up for senior national team duty. Jean Tigana, the former French midfielder who coaches Monaco, is not alone in being mystified by the 26-year-old's continuing failure to figure in Mario Zagallo's plans.

"Ever since Sonny exploded on the scene here with Marseille there has been plenty of talk about him being picked for Brazil," Tigana said. "But nothing has happened. It has been frustrating for him because he is a genuine international-class player. He deserves to be part of the Brazilian set-up. He would be a sensation at that level."

Much the same has been said about the as-yet uncapped Brazilian who leads the forward line of Manchester United's opponents, Porto, in the Champions' League quarter-finals at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. Like Anderson, the 23-year-old Jardel was launched on his voyage of football discovery by the Rio club Vasco da Gama. In Newcastle's case, though, there will also be a threat from much closer to home.

The Toon, in fact, has long been something of a second home to John Collins, the Borders boy in the Monaco midfield. He held his stag night in the heart of Newcastle's pub-crawl party-zone, the notorious Bigg Market, and has over the years stood - or, more recently, sat - in the Gallowgate End at St James' Park. Prince Albert may be the most celebrated of the 300 Monaco supporters expected at St James' on Tuesday but half of their number will be made up by the John Collins fan club: family, friends and the Galashiels branch of the Celtic supporters' association.

It promises to be a good night for the Scots one way or another, if not exactly another "jolly" for Big Al's big mate.