Football: Newcastle's Georgian period

Simon Turnbull talks to the import who quickly became a priceless asset

They may not have won many trophies over the years but Newcastle United have never been short of a gilt-edged goalscorer. From Hughie Gallacher, the firebrand Scot, to Alan Shearer, the pounds 15m local boy, they have boasted some of the most prolific plunderers in the business.

No one in Newcastle's 105-year history, though, has scored a goal quite like the one Temuri Ketsbaia struck in the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb three weeks ago. It earned the Tynesiders a place in Europe's elite club, as championship-less but fully qualified members of the Champions' League. It alone would have paid off Ketsbaia's transfer fee. The Georgian, however, was a free signing from AEK Athens.

Apart from his golden goal, though, Ketsbaia has already proved to be a priceless acquisition in more ways than one. He has quickly won his spurs from the St James' Park cognoscenti as a David Ginola with attitude - a work-ethic attitude. He has shown his versatility too, playing on the right wing and in a central-attacking support role as well as in his favoured position, wide on the left of midfield. And, unlike his predecessor, Ketsbaia does not have a precious view about his place in the scheme of things at St James'. "I always knew it was going to be hard to hold down a regular place in the team," he said after being dropped to bench duty for the trip to Zagreb.

Ketsbaia, with his speed, his skill, his versatility and his willingness to work for the greater good, is precisely the kind of canny signing Kenny Dalglish had in mind when he started rebuilding the squad he inherited from Kevin Keegan. Though not unhappy in the spotlight, and fluent in English (his wife's aunt lives at Finsbury Park), he even shares his manager's penchant for public pragmatism. "I am not a man who promises to do this or do that," he says. "I prefer to do my talking on the pitch."

Ketsbaia was certainly in eloquent form in Tblisi on Wednesday, tormenting the Italian defence in the goalless Group Two World Cup qualifier. At 29, such big occasions are nothing new to him. His national service includes scoring twice in a 5-0 win against Wales and appearances home and away against England. His European club record with AEK Athens included playing Louis Van Gaal's Ajax in the Champions' League three years ago and holding Paris St-Germain to a goalless draw in Parc des Princes before a Patrice Loko hat-trick in the return put them out of the Cup Winners' Cup quarter- finals last season.

Such experience is likely to be invaluable to Newcastle's cause when Van Gaal brings his pounds 400m-valued Barcelona boys to Tyneside on Wednesday. And so is the assured presence of Alessandro Pistone in the home guard.

The 22-year-old Italian cost pounds 4.3m more than Ketsbaia but has been a valuable asset to the new-look Newcastle. Such has been his impact on the right of a three-man-central defensive formation that the one occasion on which he put a foot wrong stood out, though David Batty was equally at fault for the error which allowed Igor Cvitanovic to shoot the Zagreb tie into extra-time. Even Dalglish has been hard pressed to contain his admiration of the former Italian Under-21 captain.

"Alessandro has been a great signing," he said. "He's got excellent control. He's strong in the tackle. And he's especially good in the air. He's also good at organising at the back. He'll be even better when the other lads know what he's saying."

There was more than a little consternation in Italy when Internazionale allowed Pistone to leave. Dalglish's shrewdness had much to do with it, however. Inter needed money to finance the pounds 20m signing of Ronaldo and simply could not refuse Newcastle's offer, though they insisted on a clause in the four-year contract allowing them a first option to buy. That itself confirms how highly Pistone is rated in his homeland. And he has quickly earned a platoon of admirers among the Toon Army. "He reminds me very much of Mark Lawrenson," Ian Rush said.

Pistone's polished start has been all the more impressive considering the fact that he has not been playing in his recognised position. It was as a fluidificante, an overlapping full-back, on the left, that he became established in the Internazionale team Roy Hodgson guided to the Uefa Cup final last season. "Alessandro was a first-class player at Inter," his former team-mate Gianluca Festa, now of Middlesbrough, testified. "I can only think Inter let him go because they could not afford to hold on to him. In Italy pounds 4.3m is a lot of money but Newcastle have got themselves a bargain." And they have the canny Kenny to thank for that.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album