Nolberto Albino ‘Nol’ Solano Todco – Nolberto Solano for short – was born in Callao, Peru on the 12th December 1974. The youngest of seven, the son of a Peruvian Navy sailor, he had a poor beginning in the favelas of Peru before – as with many young South American players – he found an escape in football which brought him fame and fortune. A big chunk of that acclaim was bestowed on him nearly 10,000 kilometres from home in a much cooler part of the world, the North East of England. To fans of Newcastle United, he was ‘Nobby’ and over two spells very much became a cult hero of the Toon faithful and was particularly loved by a certain Alan Shearer.
Solano first landed at St James’ Park back in 1998 – one of the last signings made for the club by Kenny Dalglish – becoming the first Peruvian to play in England. His fee was just a little short of £2.5 million a snip, even back then, for a player who was already an established international at the age of just 23. He joined from the famous Argentinian club Boca Juniors where none other than the legendary Diego Maradona was as a fan, the Argentinian referring to Solano as ‘Maestrito’ – Little Maestro. High praise indeed. His Newcastle signing immediately pricked the interest of the Geordie faithful with kick-off delayed for his debut in the reserves such was the clamour to see him.
The Peruvian’s career saw him win plenty of trophies, though none in his time in England. The lack of success was in no way down to lack of skill, or effort, on Nobby’s behalf and because of that the Newcastle fans took him to their hearts and saw him as one of their own. The feeling was clearly mutual with Nobby certainly seeing himself as an adopted Geordie, even naming the salsa band he plays his famous trumpet for – his skill on it on a par with that on the pitch – ‘The Geordie Latinos’. Solano knew how to get the fans off their seats, and any player who does that will always be loved, especially if that’s allied with work-rate, as was the case with Nobby. He was never the quickest player but his trickery, his vision, his crossing ability and impressive stamina endeared him to his adoring fans. He was also rather handy at dead-ball situations and would cause excitement every time he lined up a free-kick. He was never what you would call a great goal-scorer – he only scored just over 100 goals in over 500 appearances across his career, with 48 of those coming in the black and white of Newcastle – but was known as a scorer of great goals, as well as being a master provider.
In his time in the Premier League, which as well his time at Newcastle included spells at Aston Villa and West Ham United, he totted up 62 assists which places him 18th on the all-time Premier League list, but number one in Alan Shearer’s eyes. For the legendary Geordie striker, Nobby was the player who provided him with the most goals in his Premier League career. Solano was once, tongue in cheek, reported as saying Shearer ‘owes me many 100s of goals.’ Maybe an exaggeration but goes some way to explaining why Shearer himself got heavily involved in Solano’s return to the north-east.
The Peruvian had left Newcastle in January 2004 for Aston Villa after a falling out with then Toon boss Bobby Robson. Solano’s relationship with him had become strained due to his increased international commitments along with training ground high-jinks that often involved his trumpet, something that was never far from his side. At first, Robson found it amusing but by that January of 2004, he’d had enough. A successful spell at Villa Park had an envious Shearer looking on, especially as he had seen a drop in his goal output following the departure of his former Peruvian provider. The England striker subsequently had a word with new Newcastle boss, Graeme Souness, about getting Solano back, who then re-signed in August 2005 for the same fee Robson had sold him for 19 months earlier.
His return saw the Geordie love-in rekindled, even more so when Nobby was asked to take a step back and play right-back instead after an injury to Stephen Carr. Unsurprisingly he excelled there too, even going on to earn many of his later caps for Peru in that position. His second spell at the club ended after two years with a move to West Ham United, which was stated to be for family reasons. There are some that think there was more to it than that though. They feel he was forced out, believing there was little room for his stylish play in the mind of new boss Sam Allardyce. This is backed by the fact Nobby only spent one season in East London. Spells in Greece, home to Peru, then back to England in the Championship with Leicester and Hull followed, before finishing his playing days back in his adopted home in the north-east – all in the space of just four years.
It wasn’t Newcastle this time, but Hartlepool United, where he signed to play under manager Mick Wadsworth who had been assistant to Robson at Newcastle in Solano’s first spell there. Wadsworth was gone by December 2011 and Solano was not far behind him when new manager Neale Cooper, with echoes of Allardyce, just didn’t feel he was the kind of the player the side needed right then.
With his playing career over Nobby returned home to Peru where after a few short spells managing he has ended up on the coaching staff of the national side under current boss Ricardo Gareca which saw him finally go to a World Cup last summer, something he never managed as a player. Regardless of what he is thought of in his home country – and he is huge there, he has phone cards with his face on them there and had his wedding shown live on national television – he, and his trumpet, will forever remain legendary at Newcastle United for the pure joy and passion he brought to that part of the world.