Miles Starforth: Where did it go wrong at Newcastle for Cheick Tiote?
Remember THAT Cheick Tiote? The one that we all thought would go on to great things?
I do. So do most Newcastle United fans.
And most fondly recall his first season at St James’s Park.
Tiote was a force of nature in the 2010-11 campaign.
The midfielder ploughed through opponent after opponent on the club’s return to the Premier League.
He was tenacious. Maybe too tenacious at times.
Discipline was a problem.
A pre-season game against Monaco in the German village of Landsberg am Lech 2012 comes to mind.
It was a friendly, but Tiote, typically, left one opponent in heap after an early challenge.
Steve Harper, deadpan, shouted “shock” from his goal.
But Chris Hughton, and subsequently Alan Pardew, felt they could reduce his card count.
Within months, Tiote, signed from FC Twente, had been handed a new six-and-a-half-year deal at St James’s Park.
Most of us thought his next move would be to a Chelsea or an Arsenal given the way he tackled the division.
Yet he stayed. And stayed. And stayed.
He stayed too long. And he stagnated.
And his next move, instead, was to a Chinese second division club.
Tiote yesterday signed a two-year deal with Beijing Enterprises.
Good luck to him.
But I can’t help wonder where Tiote’s career should have taken him.
Back in early 2011, when Tiote signed his long-term contract, few of us thought he would see it out.
Tiote, it seemed, was destined for a top-four club.
I remember being in Pardew’s office at the club’s training ground soon after he had signed the deal.
Pardew joked about his disciplinary record, and the need for it to improve, when Tiote walked in.
Tiote – who had scored THAT goal against Arsenal a few days earlier – was smiling too.
Yet we haven’t seen him smile much in recent seasons.
Pardew admitted the Ivory Coast international had become “unsettled” in the summer of 2014 because of interest from an unnamed club.
Russian side Locomotiv Moscow were linked with him at the time.
That summer, Tiote was named in Pardew’s squad for the club’s tour of New Zealand.
He was meant to link up with his team-mates midway through the tour, having been given extra time off following his involvement at that summer’s World Cup.
Tiote, however, didn’t go.
The first we saw of him that pre-season was at Hillsborough for a pre-season friendly against Sheffield Wednesday on the club’s reurn to England.
And he didn’t look particularly happy to be in Germany with United for a warm-up tournament hosted by Schalke 04 later that month.
A glance at Tiote’s statistics since that summer tells its own story.
He only made 26 league starts in the following two and a half seasons.
Yes, injuries were a factor, but Tiote, for the past couple of years, didn’t really want to be at Newcastle.
Pardew was right. He had become unsettled. He stayed unsettled, and his football suffered.
Maybe other off-the-field issues also distracted him.
His contribution was fitful at best.
Tiote, at times, was a liability with and without the ball.
And that was a shame, as Tiote was better than that.
He was no N’Golo Kante, but he was an able defensive midfielder who was more than capable of holding his own in the Premier League.
Off the pitch, Tiote was a man of few words.
The quietly-spoken midfielder preferred to let his football do the talking, though Rafa Benitez was reluctant to give him the opportunity this season.
He had spent just 161 mintes on the pitch.
Tiote’s final two appearances came against Birmingham City in the FA Cup last month.
Understandably rusty after months without a first-team game, Tiote struggled to get close enough to anyone to make a tackle – or commit a foul – at St Andrew’s, where Newcastle were held to a 1-1 draw.
He was a little sharper in the replay at St James’s Park.
That turned out to be his final appearance for the club.
Tiote acknowledged United’s fans as he left the field at St James’s Park for the last time.
Tiote can move on. And so can Newcastle.
He had come close to joining Shanghai Shenhua a year ago.
Then there was interest from Galatasaray and Olympiacos last summer, but the proposed deals broke down.
This had gone on far too long.