Bobby Robson tells Hyder Jawad of the transfer deal that turned Tyneside sour...
Rarely has a football transfer caused so much division yet proved to be so beneficial to all parties.
It involved the departure of Nolberto Solano from Newcastle United to Aston Villa in January 2004, and the misunderstandings still rankle with the man who sold the player.
Sir Bobby Robson was in charge of Newcastle when the deal went through. Solano was popular on Tyneside and, at £1.5 million, was seen by Villa as a bargain buy.
In the 18 months since, Solano has turned himself into that rare animal these days: a blue-chip Villa player. Robson is not surprised - he rates the Peruvian and understands why he is so popular - but he still does not regret selling Solano.
"I don't think many of my transfer deals have been so misunderstood," Robson says. "Nobby is a lovely lad and I have to say that I like him immensely. But at the time it was a deal that suited Newcastle, Villa and Nobby himself.
"He was coming up to 30, there was competition for places at Newcastle in his position, and I think he fancied the move to Villa."
Whatever Robson's logic, the departure of Solano met with wide public disapproval. The majority of Newcastle supporters opposed the decision and Sir Freddie Shepherd, the club chairman, seemed to do little to back his own manager.
It was an unsavoury affair that seemed to dog Robson but Villa came out of it smelling of roses. Solano, who took a drop in wages to leave Newcastle, has been the most consistent Villa player under David O'Leary and is popular on the Holte End.
"I am not surprised that the Villa supporters have taken to him," Robson says. "He is a popular lad. People like him. I like him. He used to come into the dressing room and play his cornet, which the players all liked.
"But I had to make a decision that was best for Newcastle. While his touch was brilliant and his passes were good, his pace was declining.
Then we had Darren Ambrose itching for a first-team place in the same position. Nobby realised he would be better off elsewhere."
There were other problems. Solano was always keen to travel to Peru to represent his national team. This made him tired at important times, causing Robson to leave the player out of the team for key matches.
Robson's new autobiography, Farewell But Not Goodbye, reveals a chance meeting with Solano after the player had left Newcastle.
"Later that [2003-04] season, on April 24, our paths crossed again outside the Riverside Stadium, where Middlesbrough had entertained Aston Villa," Robson recalls. "Solano was sent off just after half-time, and as I slipped away ten minutes before the end to beat the traffic, we came across Nobby in the car park, fully dressed, with a Peruvian friend, loading his bags in the boot.
"Inside the stadium, his team were drawing 1-1 and were fighting for the win, which they eventually got, thanks to an 89th-minute goal by Peter Crouch. 'Hello Nobby, what are you doing?' I asked.
"It turned out that the next day he was making one of his rushed trips back to Peru. 'Shouldn't you be watching the match?' I continued. He evidently didn't think so and I left him to load his bags. That's the modern player for you."
Nevertheless, Robson wishes Solano well and is pleased that the player has had such a profound effect on life at Villa Park.
Robson also has an admiration for the achievements of David O'Leary, the Villa manager, who has worked on a tight budget since taking over from Graham Taylor in May
"Yes, I rate David O'Leary," Robson says. "He did well at Leeds United for a time but then found, like most managers do from time to time, that he was out of work. That happens to us all.
"But the important thing for him was that he took time out and returned to the game when the right job turned up. Well, Aston Villa was that right job. He has done well on a limited budget and that is to his credit.
"But will he do as well with Villa as he did with Leeds? Probably not. But he will make Villa a good team under the circumstances and that's got to be good."
Villa have played a significant role in Robson's managerial career. His final match as manager of Newcastle was away to Villa at the start of last season. It is a match he is unlikely to forget.
Robson dropped Alan Shearer from the starting line-up, opting instead to give Patrick Kluivert a place in the team.
"Shearer took it well," Robson says. "And Kluivert scored a great goal but we lost 4-2. Sadly, those two goals were the last that Newcastle scored with me as the manager. I was gone soon after that."
Villa supporters will remember the match for a different reason. It was the team's finest performance of last season and provided hope at a time when European football still seemed to be a realistic ambition.
* Sir Bobby Robson will be signing copies of his book, Farewell But Not Goodbye, at Borders in the Bullring from 12.30-2pm today.