At first glance, Xisco’s deadline-day arrival at Newcastle United in 2008 appeared perfectly logical. No mean feat for a club with a long history of questionable decisions on the transfer market. A strike force relying on the declining, injury-prone trio of Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, and Obafemi Martins badly needed a refresher.
In stepped the Spanish under-21 forward, who had just begun to force his way into the first team at Deportivo La Coruña. But instead of a rousing success, Xisco – full name Francisco Jiménez Tejada – has become a Tyneside punchline during his four-year odyssey.
Throughout the dog days of the summer transfer window, players move from club to club like chess pieces. Contractual terms between the two teams and the transferred player are nitpicked to death. The human factor – integrating the player into his new squad – is brushed aside. There is no better example than Xisco of the dangers of that approach. Nothing could have prepared a young foreigner for the chaos swirling around St. James’ Park in the fall of 2008.
Three days after Xisco touched down in Newcastle, manager Kevin Keegan turned in his resignation. Fans panicked, much as they did in Liverpool when Kenny Dalglish got his pink slip in May. Keegan intended to use truckloads of owner Mike Ashley’s cash to rebuild the team. Instead, he got Xisco: a player he had never seen in person, selected by a recruitment team that did not answer to the manager.
By pushing King Kev out the door, Xisco had become a made man in Ashley’s hated “Cockney Mafia.” A goal in his Premier League debut was not nearly enough to free him of the stigma. That goal, against Hull City in September 2008, is still his most meaningful contribution to the Newcastle cause. He spent the rest of the season rotting on the bench as his reputation continued to tank.
Xisco had been plopped down in a new country, into a struggling team. Newcastle’s interim manager, the volatile Joe Kinnear,“didn’t care if [he] trained well or trained badly,” the player would later recall. Stuck behind the aforementioned trio of Owen, Martins, and Viduka, as well as the likes of Andy Carroll, Peter Løvenkrands and Shola Ameobi, there was little he could do as Newcastle spiraled toward relegation.
The experience soured the young Spaniard’s attitude, and he ended up feigning injury to force his loan to Racing Santander at the summer transfer deadline in 2009. That, along with his well-documented love of the vibrant Tyneside nightlife, was enough to turn the few remaining sympathetic supporters against him. Perhaps things would have been different had Xisco stayed to ply his trade in the Championship. Instead, Andy Carroll was the young striker who flourished in the second tier, becoming a Geordie hero as he fired his hometown club back into the Premier League.
Meanwhile, in a bit of karma for the shenanigans that prompted the loan deal to begin with, Xisco’s Racing debut ended after less than 10 minutes because of (legitimate) injury. He had scored five goals in two weeks for Depor in 2008, but managed just three in 23 appearances for the Cantabrians.
With Newcastle earning promotion back to the top flight, and purged of many of the big names that stymied his first Tyneside campaign, it appeared that an English rebirth was still possible for Xisco in 2010. Chris Hughton seemed open to giving him a go, trying him out on the left wing throughout the preseason. He even helped cap off Andy Carroll’s hat trick in the first home match of the year, a 6-0 romp over Aston Villa. That prompted a memorable little jab at the Spanish striker from the commentary booth: “Great work from Xisco. Another phrase I didn’t expect to say today.”
Despite the slick assist for his former Newcastle reserve teammate, Xisco again disappeared for months on the bench without explanation. His absence was so curious that rumors of odd contractual clauses began circulating. The most common, and numerically convenient, suggested that a tenth league appearance would mean increasing his £5.7 million transfer fee, which by this point already looked absurd. Whatever the reason, with nine Newcastle matches in three years under his belt, Xisco packed his bags for a loan back to Depor, his first professional club, in January 2011. Any hope that he would rediscover his form quickly dissipated. Instead, he had a similar experience to his first season in Newcastle: watching from the bench as the club staggered into the second division.
When Xisco returned to England in the summer of 2011, Carroll had been sold to Liverpool, and fans were furious that the club had not replaced him. Xisco was never given a chance to try. Alan Pardew kept him off the plane when Newcastle set off on its ill-fated preseason adventure in the United States. Two days before the Premier League season kicked off, he was headed for yet another stint at Depor, now toiling in the obscurity of the Liga Adelante.
Even in the second tier, Xisco seemed incapable of making an impact. Though he sported the number nine shirt, he slogged through a handful of substitute appearances until one magical week at the end of May. With Depor looking for a final push back to La Liga, Xisco sealed the second-division title with a pair of late winners. For the briefest of moments, he made himself relevant again.
With one year to go on his contract, Xisco now returns to Newcastle a conquering hero. A wildly successful campaign sees the Geordies headed to the Europa League next season, and desperately looking for depth to handle the increased strain on the schedule. As a striker who can also play on the left, he seems a positional match for Pardew’s 4-3-3 formation. With Demba Ba’s future with the club in question, Xisco may yet be a useful player to have.
The fans at St. James’ Park have mostly forgiven Ashley for his early failings as Newcastle owner. Will Xisco get a chance to redeem himself as well? It would be a charming end to a perplexing tale if the forgotten man keys an extended European campaign.