Ayoze Perez has an emotional message for Newcastle United fans as he considers his future at the club
Ayoze Perez left the heat of Tenerife five years ago – and found warmth on Tyneside.
Canary Islanders, Perez admits, quickly get homesick, yet the forward soon settled at Newcastle United – and in the city.
Perez has a decision, in his mind, to make this summer. But it won’t be an easy one.
The 25-year-old, reportedly a target for Valencia, ended last season as the club’s leading Premier League scorer with 12 goals.
Has he played his last game at St James’s Park as a United player?
“It’s something that I cannot say right now,” said Perez. “You cannot guarantee it.
“We’ll see. It’s going to be a long summer. Obviously, there’s going to be a day where you make a decision. It depends on many things. Let’s see what happens. Obviously, this place is always going to be in my heart, whatever happens. We’ll see what happens.”
Perez joined Newcastle as an unknown from Segunda Division side Tenerife in the summer of 2014, and he was soon leading the line in the Premier League because of injuries. He scored seven goals that season.
The former Spain Under-21 international has since been on a rollercoaster with the club.
Asked what he had expected when he signed for United, Perez said: “I didn’t know what was coming. I have no idea, to be honest. But what I know is that I cannot thank Newcastle – the city, the club, everything around – for what they have given me.
“I say again, I wasn’t even a professional. I came to a different world, and I cannot thank Newcastle enough for what they gave me. It’s been five unbelievable years, ups and downs, unforgettable moments, bad moments, but it’s part of the process that made me a better footballer and person.
“Obviously, it’s always going to be in my heart, whatever happens. This place, this city, this club – everything is going to be in my heart forever.”
Perez wasn’t sure how he’d settle on Tyneside. Yet he quickly settled in Newcastle – and had five “amazing” years at the club.
“The people from the Canary Islands are very famous,” said Perez. “As soon as we go away from home, we’re missing home, and we always try to get back home as soon as possible – one or two years and we want to go back home!
“I’ve been here five years, which is a long time. Also the challenge that not many Spanish players have had success in this club.
“So all those challenges, I took them, and I think it’s been an amazing five years for myself, and I could grow up as a professional in this club.”
It’s not always been easy. Perez’s performances under Rafa Benitez have, at times, come under scrutiny, and he started celebrating his goals by sticking his fingers in his ears last season.
Perez has had toughen up physically – and mentally – during his time at Newcastle.
“It’s part of the process – you have to accept it,” said Perez. “When you’re not playing as well as you wish, you sometimes get critics, and it’s part of the sport. Every player gets it, but it’s the way you react.
“Mentally, you have to be very strong, and in this case I could go through and now I’m just thinking it’s been a great season for us, another great end to the season for myself, and for the team as well we cannot ignore the fact that we’re not spending so much money in our team and we’re still fighting.”
Perez, arguably, had his best spell at United in the second half of last season as part of a Spanish-speaking front three alongside Salomon Rondon and Miguel Almiron. He scored six goals, including a memorable hat-trick against Southampton at St James’s Park, in the club’s final five games.
“The confidence has been growing month by month, playing good games, getting results, knowing each other,” said Perez. “That’s the important thing. In our case, the strikers need to score goals, we have been linking pretty well. Also, some signings have helped us a lot.
“At the end, everything comes together and has been important for us. The confidence that the team showed has been impressive.”
Newcastle ended the season in 13th place, but Perez, like manager Benitez, wants more for a club known, above all else, for the loyalty and passion of its supporters.
“You’ve got the most difficult thing you can have as a club … to have this support home and away, the way people see football in this city is something you cannot control,” said Perez.
“It’s something every club doesn’t have. It’s the most difficult thing, and we should look after that and take advantage of that to play for something bigger.”
Perez suggested in April that it would soon be “time for a change”. However, he admits it would be hard to leave St James’s Park, even if he’s feeling the pull of Spain and La Liga.
"Yes, that's something that's always in (my) mind,” said Perez. “This kind of environment ... you don't see it in many places. We'll see what happens. It's going to be a long summer, whatever can happen. I cannot guarantee anything, but we'll see. It's time to rest, to enjoy and be with my family and friends. We'll see."