Last month, Spanish publication AS mentioned Ayoze Perez in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona.
It was exhausted – if slightly exaggerated – praise for Newcastle United’s newly acquired young striker, who joined from Spanish club Tenerife in June. AS were reacting to Perez’s wonderful solo effort against Carlisle in a non-competitive match.
Now in November, the 21-year-old might not be scoring goals that are quite as spectacular, but they are infinitely more important to his club. In successive English Premier League games he has netted winners against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
When unveiled as a Newcastle player for the first time, Perez was earmarked for the club’s development squad – a future investment to sit behind the likes of Papiss Cisse and Emmanuel Riviere in the pecking order.
Yet despite his slight frame and relative inexperience in top-flight football, the Spanish youth international is adapting quickly to life in England.
His contributions thus far have helped transform the club, who were struggling in attack before his involvement became more pronounced.
Perez’s small physique and agility on the surface might seem ill-suited to the physical style of the Premier League but it’s these very qualities that have breathed fresh life into Newcastle’s style of play.
Alan Pardew’s deployment of Perez has on the one hand deprived his team of a more classical target man – in the mould of Riviere and Cisse – but on the other brought fluidity to the side’s forward movement that had previously disappeared.
Perez’s mobility and intelligent movement is bringing the best out of players such as Remy Cabella, Moussa Sissoko and Rolando Aarons, who have benefited from the outlet provided by the Spaniard. His impact against Tottenham was tremendous, scoring a superb header in the second half that clinched the Magpies a precious victory.
Given his success in Spain, where he enjoyed a meteoric rise with his local club Tenerife, perhaps his sudden impact in England shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Yet for Pardew and his scouting team, his signing has been the most important of the season. A £1.5 million fee is a small price to play, considering Perez has effectively rescued his new manager from the sack and alleviated the crippling pressure on the club after a poor start to the season.
The question now is whether Perez can propel Newcastle up the league table and permanently displace Cisse as the team’s first-choice striker. He has certainly done enough to earn a starting spot against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, but Pardew might also be tempted to continue deploying the striker from the bench.
With Perez on the pitch, Newcastle suddenly look a different team. The temptation to aim directionless long balls forward is mitigated by his presence and that is a huge positive.
Given the right support this season, Perez has the ability and potential to replicate his impressive individual feats with Tenerife and become a real hero on Tyneside.