Cheick Tiote, God rest his soul, is one of the greatest players and personalities I’ve ever had the fortune to watch play for my club. Lately, with all of the talk around the famous 4-4 draw with Arsenal (the club streamed the full 90 on YouTube last week), I’ve been reminiscing on the life and career of a true midfield warrior.
Cheick Tiote at Newcastle
His debut season
Tiote signed for Newcastle for £3.5m from Dutch side FC Twente back in August 2010. He arrived with little in the way of expectation surrounding him, but became a fan favourite on Tyneside very quickly in his first season.
His tough-tackling, no nonsense style of football went down an absolute treat with Newcastle fans. There aren’t many countries in the world wherein a strong tackle is applauded almost with the same vigour you would applaud a goal, but England is most definitely one of them – Newcastle in particular.
Given that a staple of Tiote’s game was to just chop the opposition midfielders in half, he was instantly from the get go. Even in his debut he managed to put a few hearty tackles in – he actually got sent off on his debut in the FA Cup against Stevenage…
His full debut came at Goodison Park in the third game of the 2010/11 Premier League season. Tiote played the whole 90 minutes of the game, completing all of his passes, winning all of his tackles and putting in an all around great display.
His first season was perhaps his most memorable – for one particular reason. In February 2011, a little over halfway through the season, United were in disarray having lost their top scorer and star man Andy Carroll to Liverpool. Then, Arsenal came to town.
The Famous Arsenal game
The Gunners were 4-0 up inside 26 minutes of the game at St James’ Park and were humiliating Newcastle on their own turf. In the second half, an Abou Diaby red card saw the tide turn in Newcastle’s favour as they got one back, then another and then, miraculously another…
With the score at 4-3 to the Gunners, time was running out for Newcastle find an equaliser, but the momentum was on their side. They won a free-kick wide right, which Joey Barton whipped into a crowded penalty area.
Arsenal managed to scramble it clear but, unfortunately for them, it fell right onto the supposedly weaker left foot of Cheick Tiote who unleashed a humdinger of a volley into the bottom corner – sending St James’ Park wild. The teams drew 4-4 and, to this day, it’s regarded by most as the greatest ever Premier League comeback.
That goal was to be the only goal Tiote would ever score in his seven year stint on Tyneside – well, the only one that counted anyway…
The goal that never was…
Rewind your clock to January 2014, Manchester City are the visitors to St James’ Park with the Magpies fresh off the back of their yearly FA Cup embarrassment – this time against Cardiff City.
Newcastle fell a goal behind early doors thanks to Edin Dzeko, a man who’d already found the back of the net at St James’ Park earlier in the season in an EFL Cup match. With the Magpies chasing the game, Tiote unleashed another venomous half volley, this time straight into the top corner.
As they had done three years previously for his only other goal, United fans went mad – not just in celebration of the equaliser, but with sheer joy at seeing a fan favourite end a three year goal drought. But, celebrations were cut short as then City keeper Joe Hart rushed to the linesman, claiming there were players offside.
Replays showed he was right, there were indeed three Newcastle players all stood in an offside position as the shot came in. However, none of them were in his sight line, none of them were in his way and none of them impeded Hart in any way, shape or form. Despite that, the referee wrongly disallowed the goal.
After the game, former United and City midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his bafflement at the decision.
“I don’t see any reason why the goal shouldn’t have been given because clearly the referee is in a better position than the linesman,” he said. “He must know that no-one is in Joe Hart’s line of vision.
“I don’t know why the referee did ask the linesman to clarify the decision. Gouffran is in an off-side position but he’s not in Hart’s line of vision.
“People talk a lot about referee’s taking time to think about a decision. I think that sometimes they can take too much time. The referee should have gone with his instinct and given the goal.
“Newcastle have been done because the linesman didn’t give the off-side decision at first. I don’t know what question the referee asked to make him change his mind because if he thought there was a nick off Gouffran he should have given it as off-side straight away.
“The goal should have been given 100 per cent – there was no reason for the officials not to give it.”
From a personal perspective, I was in the ground that day and nearly broke my neck celebrating the goal. I was so unbelievably livid because, even from Level 7 of the Leazes Corner, we could see that nobody has obstructed Hart’s view. We felt robbed and that led to an incredible noise inside the ground, mostly aimed at the referee.
In the end, United lost the game 2-0 as Alvaro Negredo added a 95th minute goal to seal the deal, but as the old cliche goes, the Tiote goal would have changed the game completely.
My personal thoughts on Tiote
Over the course of my 22 years on this planet, and as a Newcastle United fan, there’s been very few footballers I’ve had as much admiration for as I do Cheick Tiote. I absolutely loved his attitude on the pitch, but his attitude off it was just as incredible.
The fans of our great club loved Cheick and to be honest, it’s not hard to see the reasons why. He provided us with some incredible memories on the pitch, not least the goal against Arsenal.
He was also once sent off in a Tyne-Wear derby – which, while obviously not great, shows that he approached that game with all the vigour and might you would expect from your central midfielders in a derby match. He was straight red carded for a bad tackle on Steven Fletcher in a 1-1 derby draw back in 2012.
Tiote understood the fans and he understood the city, something that many a Newcastle player, particularly over the last couple of decades, have failed to grasp. For someone to come from so far away and yet grasp the concept of what football means to our city is incredible – some of the English lads don’t even manage that.
It makes me sad that his career at Newcastle ended in the way it did. Under Rafa Benitez, Tiote just fell completely out of favour. At the end of the 15/16 season he was barely played and when he was, he was just shoe-horned in wherever they could find a place for him.
The midfield trio of Gini Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko and the then brand new Jonjo Shelvey couldn’t be displaced, and Cheicky was linked with moves away in the summer. They didn’t come to fruition and Benitez decided to keep him around for the Championship season in 17/18 – but he would only play three more games.
In the February of that season, Tiote was allowed to leave to find some game-time as he started to edge towards the twilight years of his career. He joined Chinese second division side Beijing Enterprises – his final club in professional football.
He certainly had his ups and downs, but Cheick Tiote was loved by the people of Tyneside, and is still sorely missed by all. He only scored one goal in seven years at Newcastle United – but the magnitude of that goal sums up the type of player that he was – the man for the big moment.
The day I heard he had sadly passed away, a feeling I can only describe as being similar to losing a loved one hit me like a ton of bricks. He’d only been away from the club a matter of months and, as we found out later on, had been preparing to father a new baby.
The only other time I’ve felt that kind of pain at the loss of somebody I didn’t even know personally was when the news broke that Sir Bobby Robson had passed.
Cheick Tiote may not have a statue outside St James’ Park in his honour, but he’ll always have a place in my heart as one of my favourite footballers ever to grace the football club I’m lucky enough to call mine. RIP Cheicky, we miss you.
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