There is a striking image of Salomon Rondon walking down a narrow entranceway towards the St James’ Park pitch, a small blast of green on what otherwise is grey at the end of that narrow tunnel.
Rondon is wearing a black and white Newcastle shirt with the No 9 emblazoned in red on the back. His son, who is six, is pulling at his arm, pointing at the pitch. His daughter, holding his other hand, is a more pensive step behind.
This is a new world potentially for Rondon and his family, and a contrast to a more complicated life back home, in Venezuela, where his mother and father still live. He asks for caution after the interview. He loves the country of his birth, but there are complications when he returns. The country’s economy is in crisis. There were warnings two years ago about risk if he returned.
He stayed away this summer, and that meant his parents had to watch his slow, protracted move to Newcastle United from afar.
“I did not go back this summer,” he says. “It is difficult. I know my position. I am the only player in the Premier League (from Venezuela) and it is difficult. Everyone recognises me, it is best I stay quiet. It is best to get my Mum and Dad to visit me. This is the best way. Everyone knows the situation in Venezuela (he was born in Caracas).
“You read about inflation all the time in newspapers. It is high, very very high. I am a footballer not an economist, but of course it is a bad situation for the people there and for me as well, for everyone, for all Venezuelan people around the world because we’ve got family there. It is a difficult moment.
“All of you know what has happened there, but my responsibility as a Venezuelan person is to make Venezuelan people proud of football. It’s the same when we play for the national team. We try to make them forget the bad moments, the bad things, just for those 90 minutes.
“I don’t have a tattoo, but if I did it would be the flag of my country. I feel very, very proud to be a Venezuelan. This is my ID. As a footballer, I try my best to make them proud.
“It has been big news, for the people of Venezuela more than me, about me coming to Newcastle, they would call and ask, ‘Are you going to Newcastle?’ You can say nothing because they are negotiating. When it was official people were very, very happy.”
It has taken four countries and six clubs and 12 years to get from Aragua, where it started, to Newcastle United, not to mention those further two months to get from West Bromwich. Rondon will be 30 next September. His fee was £16.5m, plus a substantial contract. He eventually moved as part of a loan swap instead, with Dwight Gayle going in the opposite direction.
Jamaal Lascelles, the Newcastle captain, said he was his most physical opponent last season. When Rondon made his debut as a substitute against Tottenham just before the hour mark, there was a fierce roar. He knows, he insists, what the number on his shirt represents.
‘I like the pressure,” he says. “But yes, I know all about the No 9. When I signed the contract here there was a big picture of all the top scorers, Alan Shearer at the top with 206, so the pressure is big. It’s amazing to score 206 goals, but I want to make the fans proud by wearing this shirt, like Alan Shearer did.
“The roar was incredible for all of us. We are very crazy with the people. Everyone has been speaking to us about Newcastle and we really appreciate the welcome we have received here. My wife, my kids, my mother-in-law and the grandma of my wife were in the ground.
“I spoke to Faustino Asprilla, he told me the fans will be proud of the players if they work hard. We have things in common, I try to score goals. It is important to the supporters that you work really really hard. He told me it was a great city for my family.”
Rondon was Rafa Benitez’s first choice striker this summer. The manager called him. He was top scorer for Las Palmas for two seasons after moving to Spain. He went to Russia and was involved in two big-money moves. He went to Zenit St Petersburg and faced down a statement from Landscrona, the club’s largest supporters’ club, that they wanted an all white heterosexual team, by scoring 28 goals.
“I just tried to enjoy it,” he adds. “This is a privileged life, we travel around the world. For me, the football is just like that.”
Rondon is quiet and cheerful. He has scribbled the No 9 in pen onto his flip flops, but insists there are no targets, other than to succeed and make his move permanent.
“If you are a striker, the most important thing is to score goals,” he concludes. “I know my stats and maybe they have not been really, really high, but everyone knows that I was playing at West Brom and in my first season here I scored 10 goals.
“It was a difficult time for me because my dad had aneurysms in his brain. I tried to be focussed and I tried to score goals, although it wasn’t enough in my opinion.
“I want to stay at Newcastle and the only way to do that, of course, is to score goals and train really, really hard to hold on to my place. The welcome has been amazing.”
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