Salomon Rondon says he is desperate to make enough of an impact at St James’ Park to make his Newcastle United move permanent after revealing Rafa Benitez first contacted him about a move to St James’ Park back in June .
Rondon’s revelation that Benitez rang him a few weeks into the summer transfer window throw fresh light on the Spaniard’s determination to get a move for his top striker target sanctioned by the United board.
And Rondon also says that the uncertainty over the protracted negotiations left him in limbo – with West Brom putting him on a different training schedule and keeping him out of pre-season games on the understanding that a move would happen.
That probably explains Benitez’s frustration at the delays in the deal – he is famously meticulous and would have wanted to work on shape and tactics with Rondon as part of the group – but a compromise which saw Dwight Gayle move to West Brom was thrashed out.
Speaking ahead of the trip to Cardiff, the Venezuela striker offered fresh insight into how the deal came about: “I first heard of the interest two months ago but negotiations were difficult. I was just waiting. When I gave the answer that I wanted to come here, I was expecting it to happen but it was difficult,” he said.
“I remember the first call from Rafa (I couldn’t believe it). ‘Hello, this is who?!”. He told me they were interested in me and would I like to come. Of course! It was a pleasure. I obviously know a lot about Rafa in the football world. It is a pleasure to work with him, to see his tactics, his ideas.”
For Rondon – whose contract at West Brom has been extended by an extra 12 months, meaning he will not be available on a free in the summer – the objective is clear.
“Yes, moving here permanently is my personal target. And the only way to do that of course is to score goals train really, really hard to hold on to my place,” he said.
“I feel lucky. Of course. The situation when West Brom went down was difficult and I am just really grateful to be back in the Premier League again.
“Newcastle United all feels very big. Newcastle in the Premier League (is famous). I know all about the amazing South American players who have been here – Solano, Jonas Gutierrez, how really well they did here. In my career, I have played in different leagues with different players and I know this is the biggest move of my career. That is why I want to stay here permanently.”
Speaking to Rondon at the training ground, he comes across as grounded but determined to succeed at a club that he feels is the “biggest” of his career.
He comes across as a typical Benitez signing: technically good but with a willingness to work and take instruction. Benitez also carries out background checks on mentality and personality and Rondon – who had two successful stints in La Liga with Malaga and Las Palmas – scored highly on both.
At Darsley Park he walks into his interview with the assembled press pack wearing flip flops that he has scrawled the number nine on. Asked why, he says it’s because he’s proud to have taken a number associated with Alan Shearer .
But he says he is not daunted by walking in those shoes: “I like the pressure. The pressure is always everywhere. You have to manage the situation. If you have confidence in yourself, it doesn’t matter.
“I like the pressure. But yes, I know all about the No 9. When I signed the contract here there was a big picture of all the top scorers – Alan Shearer at the top with 206. So the pressure is big… it’s amazing to score 206 goals. But I want to make the fans proud by wearing this shirt, like Alan Shearer did.”
In terms of reading up on United’s heritage, Rondon spoke to Faustino Asprilla for advice. “I watched him, growing up in South America. Everyone knows what he did here.
“The goals he scored for the club and the hat trick against Barcelona. That was big because in Venezuela, in fact the whole of South America, everyone loves football. He played for Colombia national team. I spoke with him and had a few words and he told me it was a great city for my family.
“He told me it was a great city for his family too. He told me the fans will be proud of the payers if they work hard. We have things in common, I try to score goals. It is important to the supporters that you work really really hard. I will try to do well but the first thing is the team.”
Rondon is refusing to state a goals target publicly and acknowledges he must score more: “If you are a striker, the most important thing is to score goals.
“I know my stats and maybe they have not been really, really high but everyone knows that I was playing at West Brom. In my first season here I scored 10 goals. Maybe that didn’t make everybody really happy, but it was also difficult.
“In my career before then, I didn’t have any red cards and then I had a red card. It was a difficult time for me because my dad had an aneurysm in his brain, so it was a difficult moment for me.
“I tried to be focused and tried to score goals, although it wasn’t enough in my opinion. If you are a striker, you want to score 15, 20 goals and it wasn’t like that, but I was happy anyway.”
Last year at West Brom was tough, he acknowledges: “The way we went down last season (was tough) – I say we, because everyone did bad things.
“In the first month, players wanted to leave. It was difficult because we changed the manager three times. If you do bad things from the beginning, you will finish the season in a bad way.
“We did really well under Darren Moore. In the last few games we only lost the last one, but we went down to the Championship. The only positive thing for me over the past three years was when I arrived in the Premier League the supporters made me feel like I was at home, to be honest.
“I remember my first game against Manchester City and they sung to me. It was an amazing feeling. It was a dream to come to the Premier League and that was a beautiful moment for me as a footballer. But the way last season went was very tough.”