Salomon Rondon sat down with journalists at Newcastle United’s training ground five days after making his debut last August,
Rondon sat in his training kit and flip flops, arms folded, and spoke about his hopes of the season, West Bromwich Albion’s relegation and his career. The striker was also asked about the worsening crisis in his native Venezuela, where his parents still live.
“My responsibility as a Venezuelan person is to make Venezuelan people proud of football,” said Rondon. “I don’t have a tattoo, but if I did it, would be the flag of my country.”
Rondon spoke quietly and thoughtfully.
The 29-year-old, however, wasn’t so shy when he crossed the white line.
Rondon was immense up front for the club – week in, week out. He scored 11 Premier League goals – and created opportunities for others.
He fought up front alone, held the ball up, brought others into play – and scored goals. He’s an old-fashioned No 9 with the technical ability needed in the modern-day game, and United last week named him as the club’s player of the season.
Rondon tweeted: “I feel really honoured to have been named @NUFC’s player of the year. A real privilege! I owe the award to my team-mates and you Magpies who’ve battled all the way with us.”
Rondon was a deserving recipient of the award, but there were other strong candidates.
There was Ayoze Perez, who ended the season with 12 league goals after a stunning few months.
And what about Fabian Schar? He couldn’t get into the starting XI for the first few months of the campaign after joining from Deportivo La Coruna last summer, but the defence ended the season as a fixture in the team with four goals to his name.
Speaking before Sunday’s 4-0 season-ending win over Fulham, Benitez said: “It’s not fair for me to pick just one.
“Even if you do not see someone playing really well and making a difference, he may still be doing something for the team which I like and which is necessary.
“We can say Ayoze’s doing really well, Rondon’s doing really well, but maybe someone like (Paul) Dummett is making the difference. He came back from injury and can play as full-back or centre-back.”
Then there’s Matt Ritchie, who was moved from attack into defence during the season.
Ritchie, fielded as a wing-back for much of the campaign, gets my vote.
The 29-year-old never lets up – even in training.
He’s first out on the pitch and last back in during the week. And the switch to wing-back, ironically, saw him become more of a threat in the final third of the pitch.
Ritchie, more than any other player, made Newcastle tick this season.