IT’S the small things that Jonas Gutierrez enjoys the most.
Little things like waking up in the morning and driving to training.
Little things that he will never take for granted.
A few short months ago, making the short drive from his home to Newcastle United’s Benton training ground was far from Gutierrez’s mind as he fought cancer 7,000 miles away in Argentina.
He was on a journey of an entirely different kind, with cancer having returned to his body.
Gutierrez, as anyone who has watched him on the pitch knows, is a fighter.
He was up for the fight, but the 31-year-old couldn’t have beaten cancer alone.
Gutierrez, diagnosed with testicular cancer in late 2013, drew strength from the support he got from Tyneside – and around the world – as he underwent a gruelling course of chemotherapy.
The Argentina international – who bravely went public with his battle last September – was moved to tears watching a Newcastle game on TV.
Gutierrez heard his name sung by supporters.
There was also applause in the 18th minute to signify the No18 shirt worn by Gutierrez, who remarkably ran the Buenos Aires marathon during his treatment.
“I was in tears when I heard my name sung on television,” Gutierrez told the Gazette.
“I say thank you to those fans. That has always been there with me – always. Through all of my treatment, the messages and support from the Newcastle fans was special. It made me happy.
“To be at home in Argentina and hear my song and then the clapping in the 18th minute was very emotional – I don’t have the words to say what power that gave me.
“It’s true that it gives you the strength to go forward.”
Back then, resuming his football career was the last thing on Gutierrez’s mind.
“There was a time when all I could think about was the treatment and to put myself in the hands of the doctors,” he said.
“I was always positive, and I told my family and friends ‘listen, the most important thing is to be healthy again’.
“I did not know what was going to happen in the future at that moment.
“All I wanted was to be healthy and come through all of my chemotherapy.”
Thankfully, Gutierrez – who lost his trademark long hair during chemotherapy – did come through.
Now the little things in life really do put a smile on his face.
And should Gutierrez – best-known for donning a Spider-Man mask to celebrate his goals – return to the pitch this season, his smile will be as wide as the Tyne.
“If I remember what has happened to me then I assure you, I have enjoyed every day of training, every little thing,” said Gutierrez.
“If I come back and play for Newcastle then, for me, it will be the best.
“I have been at this club and in this city for seven years. The welcome from the fans from the day I arrived has been special – I’ve always had a special relationship with them.
“But I have to get fit and be right. Then we will speak about what happens next.
“The most important thing for me now is enjoying being with my team-mates and having the pleasure of training with them every day.
“All of these things, during my treatment, I was not allowed to do. These are the things I enjoy.
“I am always looking forward and of course I want to go back to the first-team. But I have to go step by step.”
Gutierrez took another step forward on Monday night in front of 332 spectators at a wind-swept and bitterly cold Whitley Park.
He scored Newcastle’s goal in a 1-1 Under-21 Premier League draw against Bolton Wanderers.
A short corner was worked to Gutierrez 20 yards from goal. He took a touch with his left foot, another with his right to ready himself, and then lashed a fierce right-footed shot into the top right-hand corner of the net.
There was no elaborate celebration, just a smile that told its own story.
More significantly, he played the full 90 minutes for the first time since returning to the club.
The last out of the dressing room after the match, he spoke at length as the caretaker patiently waited to lock up and an equally patiently group of fans waited for his autograph.
“The most important thing is to have games and get fit,” said Gutierrez.
“I want to be 100 per cent as soon as possible.
“But all of this is nice – just waking up in the morning and knowing I can train after all of the treatment and chemotherapy.
“I love to do all of this – these are the types of things I have missed. I enjoy this now more than ever.”
Asked how close he is to a first-team return, Gutierrez added: “If you watch all of the games I have played in since coming back, I have been improving in every one of them.
“Now, I feel really good. Maybe in two weeks I’ll be at 100 per cent.
“Maybe then I can sprint past someone in a one-on-one, but that’s the last part of being ready to play. That’s normal.
“I need to have that in my locker before I play, because that was always one of the most important parts on my game, playing on the wing and getting past players.
“I want to get back to that, and I feel I’m now close.”
Gutierrez, however, hasn’t watched a game at St James’s Park since returning from Argentina.
He wants to be ready to play before he walks into the dressing room.
“I haven’t been to the stadium yet,” he said.
“It’s hard for me. For now, I prefer to be at home and watch on TV. It’s hard to be in the changing room at this moment.”
Before he does return to the stadium, he might well have to pop to the shops for a familiar prop to tuck into his shorts.
Gutierrez added: “Maybe now I will have to buy a new Spider-Man mask!”