Talent and application are two very different qualities. When a footballer has both in abundance, they’re likely to achieve great things in the professional game. Former Newcastle United striker Faustino Asprilla had as much talent as the greatest of footballers, but sadly his controversial antics and lack of professionalism clouded what could’ve been a spectacular career.
Faustino Asprilla became the first Colombian ever to play in the Premier League when he joined Newcastle United from Italian outfit Parma in 1996. He had undeniable skill and flair and the Newcastle United supporters were very excited about the prospect of having the Colombian at St James’ Park.
Born in Tuluá, Colombia, Asprilla signed his first professional contract at the age of 18 with Cúcuta Deportivo in 1988. One impressive season and 17 league goals later, and the tricky forward found himself at Colombia’s biggest club, Atlético Nacional.
Taking the move in his stride, Asprilla spent three seasons at Los Verdolagas, netting 37 times in three years with the club and picking up two trophies along the way.
Asprilla’s impressive form had earned him the interest of several Italian clubs and in 1992 Parma won the race to sign him for around $11 million. The move proved to be a success as along with terrorising defences with his pace, power, and guile, Asprilla earned a reputation for producing big moments in the big games.
Performing When it Mattered
He began to earn a reputation for scoring in big matches when his sublime free-kick from 27 yards recorded a monumental 1-0 win over Italian champions AC Milan and ended their 58-match unbeaten run. He also played an instrumental role in guiding Parma to their first European crown. His brace against Atletico Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final booked their place in the final, which they subsequently won 3-1 over Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp.
Rumours began to circulate in the press regarding his future, but Asprilla remained at Parma and once again played a key role in guiding them to further glory in the UEFA Cup. He scored three goals over two legs in the semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen and started both legs in Parma’s 2-1 aggregate victory against native compatriots Juventus.
The Colombian’s early form at Parma earned him his first ever international call-up where he continued to perform as a big-game player, scoring twice in a 1994 World Cup Qualifier as Colombia ran riot over rivals Argentina in a 5-0 win. However, his side struggled in the subsequent group stage of the 1994 World Cup in the United States, as they finished bottom of their group following a 2-1 defeat to the host nation, a match that infamously led to the murder of Andrés Escobar.
A falling out with head coach Nevia Scala meant that he fell out of favour at Parma, making just six appearances in the first half of the 1995-96 season. He ended his first spell in Italy with two red cards, 40 goals, four trophies and a whole range of big moments in vital games. However, despite being nowhere near as successful, his spell in the northeast of England still proved just as memorable.
An Eventful Premier League Entrance
Newcastle were perched on top of the Premiership table in the winter of ’96 and Kevin Keegan’s side looked odds on to collect their first league title since 1927. In an attempt to stay ahead of Manchester United, who were now in impeccable form, Keegan decided to take in the highly rated Asprilla for just under £7 million.
“Tino” (as Newcastle fans called him) arriving at a snowy Tyneside in an outlandish fur coat became the first of his many iconic moments for the Magpies. The coat was sold for £2,300 in April 2013, with the cash going to CAFA, the football club of Faustino’s hometown.
Rumoured to have drunk a glass of wine before his debut from the bench Tino made an impact immediately. Newcastle were a goal down to northeast rivals Middlesbrough when he was introduced in the 67th minute, but they ended up taking all three points after Asprilla set up Steve Watson for the equaliser, then played a role in Les Ferdinand’s winner 11 minutes later. Soon after this, the attacker opened his goalscoring account for the Magpies in a 3-3 draw with Manchester City, however, fans were also exposed to the other side of Asprilla’s game. The FA charged Asprilla with two counts of misconduct for a clash with City’s Keith Curle. The first being an elbow mid-game, and the second being a head-butt after the final whistle. Asprilla stated the elbow was ‘accidental’ as well as claiming that he merely ‘pretend’ to head-butt Curle.
The following month saw Tino make headlines for the wrong reasons once more, choosing to shower, change and go home immediately after Newcastle’s 2-0 loss away to Arsenal whilst the rest of the team sat through Keegan’s post-match team talk. With fans worried about the effect this would have on the side’s team spirit and diminishing lead at the top of the table, Asprilla claimed that staying would have been pointless due to him being unable to understand his manager’s words, hence driving his decision to leave early and avoid traffic.
Alex Ferguson’s Man United went on to overtake Newcastle and Keegan missed out on the title as his side provided one of the most dramatic capitulations in the history of English football. Despite three goals and a handful of stand-out performances, some blamed Asprilla for the collapse, citing his arrival as a factor in unbalancing what was a well-oiled machine of a side for the opening half of the season.
After a topsy-turvy start to life in England, Newcastle fans had hoped that his settling in period would have been enough for Asprilla to really knuckle down and start performing consistently, however this wasn’t exactly the case. Tino continued to live a wild lifestyle, regularly being seen at nightclubs and throwing parties back at his.
“That’s how he lived in Newcastle. He was mental. He just had an open house. I think he lost his deposit on his house because there were gunshot holes in one of the walls. He was crazy,” stated former teammate Robbie Elliot.
Asprilla notched four goals in 19 games league games in his second season for the Magpies, as they finished in 2nd place once again, however, Asprilla had seemed to reserve his best performances for the UEFA Cup, where he scored five goals in six appearances. He received a yellow card for his celebration against Metz, where he removed his top and subsequently waved it from the corner flag.
The Colombian’s third and final season may have been cut short due to his return to Parma, but there was still enough time for Tino to fit one more special moment into his Newcastle career. Having sold Ginola and Ferdinand and being without Alan Shearer due to injury, Newcastle boss Kenny Dalglish was forced to rely on Asprilla as his most senior striker. However, his place in the UEFA Cup group stage starting XI against Barcelona on the 17th September 1997 was not guaranteed.
“I’d been away on international duty, but instead of going back to Newcastle I went to my ranch and had a party with lots of girls,” Asprilla told FourFourTwo in 2017. “Kenny Dalglish was furious.”
Kenny persisted with the Colombian, and not many fans will have complained about that. Asprilla scored his first from the penalty spot after he’d been brought down by Barcelona keeper Ruud Hesp, having burst into the area. The forward then had Keith Gillespie to thank for his next two goals, as well as his own power, as he got on the end of the wide man’s cross to head the ball past Hesp either side of half time to make things 3-0 to Newcastle. Luis Enrique and Luis Figo pulled things back to 3-2, but it wasn’t enough for them, and the Magpies saw the game out.
Despite Asprilla’s magical display, Newcastle failed to win any of their next four UEFA Cup matches and this saw them knocked out of the competition. Likewise, Asprilla failed to score another goal for Newcastle and he returned to Parma that January, where he failed to recreate the impact he had in his first spell.
Life After Newcastle