A happy Hammer

Nolberto Solano was offered a one-year extension by Newcastle’s new boss Sam Allardyce, but he turned it down. The exciting midfielder instead chose to sign for West Ham, closing the deal only a few hours before the transfer deadline. By Andy Hampson.

Nolberto Solano is a huge star in his native Peru. The pacy winger — or central midfielder — joined the Hammers after a second stint at Newcastle, having earlier enjoyed a short spell with English Premier League rivals Aston Villa.

Solano was born in Callao, Peru — the youngest of six children to Albino Solano, a serviceman in the Navy, and Janet. He began playing football as a child and says some of his earliest memories are of kicking a ball around in the street.

Solano first caught the eye at a trial for Lima club Alianza at the age of 11. At the trial, he told the club he was a centre-half after seeing the number of boys wanting to play up front and fearing he would not get a game. He made a big impact in his age group side, still as a defender, and was made captain when he was 12. By the age of 14 he had played at under-age level for Peru. And by the age of 17 he had impressed enough to turn professional and signed for Sporting Cristal, also of Lima.

It was at Cristal that Solano switched from central defender to right-back but he was unable to establish himself and moved to Deportivo Municipal.

Municipal were a smaller club but he was given a regular chance to play and he took it well, doing enough to earn international recognition at 18. After this, Cristal wanted him back and Solano felt this was a good opportunity given their involvement in the Copa Libertadores — South America’s biggest club competition.

He won three successive Peruvian titles from 1994-96 and with the club also impressing in the Copa Libertadores, Solano shone on a bigger stage and Boca Juniors came in for him in 1997.

Expressing himself as a right winger, he then did enough in Argentina to start sounding out European clubs about a potential move across the Atlantic, which had always been his ambition.

Arsenal and Newcastle showed their interest in him, but it was the latter that came up with the first firm offer. He signed for the Magpies for GBP2.7million in 1998 but initially had to play in a struggling team.

Solano’s first manager, Kenny Dalglish, was soon replaced by Ruud Gullit and the Dutchman did not last long either, giving way to Sir Bobby Robson, who lifted the club from the bottom of the table to qualification for the UEFA Champions League in 2003.

Solano was one of Newcastle’s main performers but his loyalty to Peru, which saw him regularly flying home to play internationals, irked Robson. The two eventually fell out over the matter and Solano decided to leave for Aston Villa in January 2004. He made an immediate impression at Villa Park and finished as the club’s top scorer in the 2004-05 season, as well as being named their player of the year. Yet he still had great affinity with Newcastle and could not resist a move back to St James’ Park when, with Robson gone, Graeme Souness bought him back.

Solano signed a two-year contract and served two more managers, Souness and his successor Glenn Roeder. Roeder also left at the end of last season but Solano was offered a one-year extension by the new boss Sam Allardyce. He turned it down, however, and opted for a move to Upton Park instead, with the deal going through just a few hours before the transfer deadline.

Solano met his wife Claudia on a blind date. Their wedding was broadcast live to a huge audience in Peru. The couple, who had two children, Matias and Luana, are now separated. Indeed, it was his desire to be nearer to his children which prompted Solano to move to West Ham. He said: “I want to go to London because my family have moved there. My wife and I are separated and I miss my children. Sometimes you have to put your family first.”

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