The ‘bargain’ Newcastle United signing that proved his worth beyond doubt with PSG heroics

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One Newcastle United bargain signing had more than proven his worth even before a heroic moment in the Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain.

There were two moments of striking similarity, separated by over a quarter of a century, that could define two separate eras at Newcastle United.

One could arguably be considered as the high point of a much-loved time, where silverware remained tantaslisingly out of grasp, yet Tyneside danced to the pied piper’s tune as Kevin Keegan’s Magpies produced a moment where their entertaining ways bloodied the noses of their chief tormentors.

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In years to come, the other could be looked back upon as the moment the touch paper was ignited on a bright new era for the men from St. James’ Park. A moment when they sent shockwaves around Europe by swatting aside a Paris Saint-Germain side rocked by the thunderous reverberations on and off the pitch that shook the Gallowgate to its very core.

“On a day where Newcastle would have taken one-nil, here they are looking for number five with Phillipe Albert ooohh, absolutely glorious.” - Howay 5-0.
(Photo by Stu Forster/Allsport/Getty Images)“On a day where Newcastle would have taken one-nil, here they are looking for number five with Phillipe Albert ooohh, absolutely glorious.” - Howay 5-0.
(Photo by Stu Forster/Allsport/Getty Images)
“On a day where Newcastle would have taken one-nil, here they are looking for number five with Phillipe Albert ooohh, absolutely glorious.” - Howay 5-0. (Photo by Stu Forster/Allsport/Getty Images)

On a fateful day in October 1996, just months after Keegan’s Magpies came out second best in a titanic title battle with Manchester United, the two sides went head-to-head under the ashen grey skies on Tyneside as the emerald green St. James’ Park pitch was given a silky sheen by persistent rainfall throughout the day.

Despite pre-match talk of a tight contest, it was the black and white United that passed, powered and pranced their way to all three points with goals from Darren Peacock, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer simply blew away Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.

The best was yet to come as Philippe Albert, a classy ball player masquerading as a centre-back. strode forward through the misty rain, collected a pass from Rob Lee and produced a delicate finish to dink a subtle chip over the helpless Peter Schmeichel and into the Leazes End net before winding away to take the acclaim of the vast majority of the disbelieving supporters inside St. James’ Park.

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Fast forward some 27 years as another defender touched with more than a hint of class and forward thinking came to the fore on a momentous occasion for the Magpies and set the seal on a day for the ages. Fabian Schar, not for the first time in his Newcastle career, shunned defensive responsibility to break into the PSG half, striding through the misty rain, collected a pass from Jacob Murphy and produced a stunning finish beyond the helpless Gianluigi Donnarumma before winding away to take the acclaim of the vast majority of the disbelieving supporters inside St. James’ Park.

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Just as Albert had done against the Premier League’s most successful club over a quarter of a century earlier, Schar had written his name into the hearts and minds of the Magpies faithful with a moment of inspiration on the biggest stage on offer at the time. Surely, in years to come, when this monumental win is remembered in the watering holes that surround St. James’ Park, his stunning strike will be remembered with the same misty-eyed, nostalgia-fuelled affection shown towards Albert.

Schar, for all of the doubts that have been cast over him from the minute he arrived on Tyneside, has proven to be one of the most shrewd signings in the club’s recent history. Initially viewed as fourth or fifth on Rafa Benitez’s transfer wish-list, Schar was said to be ill-suited to life in the Premier League, prone to lapses of concentration and was unable to function in a back four due to moments of ill-discipline.

Under Benitez’s successor Steve Bruce, the Swiss international seemed to be falling out of favour and heading for the exit door as his appearances were limited and his main attributes were nullified by a somewhat limited style of play implemented by his manager and playing in a side that were drained of confidence and belief.

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The arrival of Eddie Howe was perfectly timed for both player and club, as the former Bournemouth manager, a long-term admirer of Schar, immediately restored the defender into his side and reaped the benefits as the Swiss star provided a platform for his preferred style of play.

Schar provided the foundation for much of Newcastle’s forward thinking play and cast aside any doubts over his defensive ability by playing a lead role in a Magpies back four that were the meanest defence in the Premier League last season, conceding just 33 goals in 38 games, a total matched by only treble winners Manchester City.

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe and defender Fabian Schar applaud fans at the London Stadium.Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe and defender Fabian Schar applaud fans at the London Stadium.
Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe and defender Fabian Schar applaud fans at the London Stadium.

If there were doubts over Schar’s standing under his previous managers at St. James’ Park, his current boss left no room for discussion when he was asked about the ability of the man signed for just £3m during the summer of 2018.

“It’s not about price because that’s only what someone pays and what someone agrees to receive for the player,” explained Howe in his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s Premier League visit to West Ham United.

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“He’s just been excellent, he really has. If he was starting his career now, he’d be worth an absolute fortune. He’s a top player and I’m really pleased that he’s getting the consistency and the accolades for his performances. It’s not a conventional center-half’s finish (against PSG), it’s a centre-forward’s finish. But he has the capability to produce moments to take your breath away, he’s technically so good.”

As it stands, Schar’s contract will come to an end next summer and there have been suggestions a new one-year deal could be in the offing, yet the fact remains little is known of where the defender will ply his trade next season. But for now, as Newcastle supporters bask in the glory of Wednesday night’s heroics and look forward to what looks to be an exciting future, both they and Schar will always have Paris.

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