An article about Jonas Gutierrez

Published in issue 9 of Late Tackle.

This is an article about an article about Jonas Gutierrez. The article about Jonas Gutierrez has not been written. If it had, its angle would have been that Jonas Gutierrez is one of the most unsung and underrated players in the Premier League. It would have argued that Gutierrez is the indispensable and industrious engine of a pretty decent Newcastle United side. While Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba get the headlines, and Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are linked with big money moves, Gutierrez is the adaptable, reliable workhorse who keeps the team ticking.

In the absence through injury this season of fellow Argentine Fabricio Coloccini, Gutierrez has deputised as Newcastle’s captain. That’s a position he’s earned, the article would have posited, through sheer sweat and effort. Not your stereotypical South American “flair” player, Gutierrez rarely scores goals, and doesn’t often create them. Instead, he toils away in the midfield, below the proverbial radar. If he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, the article would have continued, that’s probably down to an increasing trend of assessing footballers through a prism of statistics, which can’t properly account for good old fashioned hard work.

The article about Jonas Gutierrez was pitched to a leading football website. It was, quite rightly, rejected. Clearly, no matter how interesting an article about Jonas Gutierrez might be, there would not be enough interest in an article about Jonas Gutierrez. In website terms, an article about Jonas Gutierrez would not generate enough “hits”. On his profile on the official Premier League website, Gutierrez has a “fantasy football popularity rating” of 3%. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds pretty low. An article about Jonas Gutierrez simply wouldn’t be popular enough. I scrapped the idea, and wrote something about Mario Balotelli instead.

But I kept thinking about Jonas Gutierrez. I’m well used to having article pitches rejected, and also having my ideas switched around, the angle or focus changed, in order to “fit a peg” or have broader appeal. My main job is writing for business publications, where I’m writing about things I might not necessarily be very interested in. But I’m writing for a particular publication and targeting that publication’s audience, and trying to do the best job I can for both, so my personal interest isn’t important. With football writing it’s slightly different, in that I’m writing about something I’m obsessed with. It’s more difficult to shake off an idea. I was still interested in writing something about Jonas Gutierrez, so I wondered if the idea could be switched around to make it work.

I also thought about modern football writing, and how it’s increasingly being tailored for the web. The magazine you are holding in your hands is an increasingly rare example of a football publication that is produced using paper and ink. Many print publications, including national newspapers, are shifting their focus away from print towards online. In order to make money online, you need to generate hits, with advertisers paying by the click. Journalists are sent on courses to learn how to optimise their content for the web. For example, they might be instructed to use specific keywords that readers will search for on the internet.

Relatively few readers will search for “Jonas Gutierrez” online – and not just because his surname is difficult to spell. Long-haired and bearded, he’s a very recognisable figure, but his football talents aren’t widely heralded. The one thing that most readers will know about him is that he used to keep a Spider-Man mask in his sock, donning the mask whenever he scored, and earning the nickname “Spider-Mag”. In Argentina, they call him “El Galgo” (“The Greyhound”) for his lolloping running style. He arrived at St James’ Park from Real Mallorca in 2007, and has been a first team regular pretty much ever since. After Newcastle were relegated in 2009, and other international players abandoned ship, Gutierrez stuck around and did as much as anyone to haul the club straight back into the Premier League. That won him a lot of respect from Newcastle fans, but no one in the wider football world took any notice, except for Diego Maradona.

If the article about Jonas Gutierrez had been written, it would have included a quote from Maradona, who told the press in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup that his team would be, “Mascherano, Messi, Jonas and eight more.” And a quote from Leo Messi, who called Gutierrez one of the best players in the Premier League: “I know you guys have Rooney, Torres and many more stars – but Jonas is as good as any of them.” Maradona and Messi generate website hits. I would definitely have mentioned them in my article.

The need for website hits inevitably means more populist coverage, and arguably reduces opportunities to tell more interesting football stories. Plenty of football writing on the web is very, very good, but a lot of it just seems to exist, like magnolia paint on a suburban living room wall. It’s popular, but it’s pretty dull. People read it, but it doesn’t tell them anything. In the absence of there being anything interesting to say, non-stories are “sexed up” (or perhaps “webbed up”) in an effort to generate traffic. There seems a need to generate controversy, to quote from Twitter accounts, and to over-rely on statistics.

Jonas Gutierrez is the kind of player who proves that statistics don’t prove anything. Last season he scored three goals and provided four assists. I suppose that could be interpreted as demonstrating a lack of “end product” for a player sometimes lazily categorised as a “winger”. The article would have pointed out that he actually plays across the midfield and, when required, at full-back. Last season, his workrate and energy were absolutely essential in securing Newcastle’s somewhat unexpected return to European football. In terms of statistics, the only one that jumps out is that he was fouled 85 times last season – more than any other player in the Premier League. The reason for this is not that he plays for fouls – and he certainly isn’t a diver. It’s simply that he’s good at keeping possession, and it’s very difficult to get the ball from him without kicking him up a height. I could probably have put that in the article.

As far as controversies go, with Gutierrez there are none. He seems like a decent person, and has settled comfortably into family life in the North East of England. He’s never snapped leaving Newcastle’s pubs and clubs late at night, although he was recently photographed early in the morning, queuing outside the city’s Apple Store for release of the latest iProduct. His tweets (sending thanks to fans, posting pictures of his dog) are unlikely to get him much media attention, either. He recently tweeted that he was stuck in a traffic jam due to a flood, if that’s of any interest to you.

All I really wanted to say, in the article about Jonas Gutierrez, was that he is a very good player who doesn’t get the credit or coverage he deserves. He’s not alone. I’d guess every club has one or two players whose efforts are invaluable to their team but largely go unnoticed. I, for one, would like to read more about these players. Perhaps I should have pitched the article about Jonas Gutierrez to Late Tackle. But you will never read that article about Jonas Gutierrez, because it will never be written.

Published by Paul Brown

Writes about football, history, true adventure. The Guardian, Four Four Two, When Saturday Comes, The Blizzard, Longreads, Deadspin, etc. Latest book: The Ruhleben Football Association. Twitter: @paulbrownUK