Once touted as one of the finest strikers in world football, Faustino ‘Tino’ Asprilla is sadly more likely to be remembered for his wayward off-field behaviour than his remarkable goal-scoring talent.
Known as ‘The Octopus’ (due to his apparently enormous appetite), Asprilla began his career in his native Colombia, where his performances drew the attention of Italian side Parma. After signing in 1992, he enjoyed three-and-a-half memorable years in Italy, helping i Crociati win the European Cup Winners’ Cup for the first time. His goals were enough to attract interest from the likes of Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, but Asprilla instead chose Newcastle United, where he signed for £6.9m in February 1996.
Asprilla immediately made an impression on Tyneside, famously arriving at St. James’ Park amid a snowstorm sporting an eccentric fur coat. At the time, Newcastle were 12 points clear of title-holders Manchester United in 2nd, and there was considerable cause for the optimism surrounding the Columbian’s arrival, not least after an impressive debut at Middlesbrough, where his appearance as a second-half substitute inspired his side to overturn a 1-0 deficit.
However, his performances soon declined amid tales of off-field misbehaviour and on-field controversy (included head-butting Keith Curle in one of his early appearances), and Newcastle again squandered a seemingly unassailable advantage to surrender the title to Manchester United. Although cast as a scapegoat for his team’s decline in form, the Geordie faithful remained in awe of the stocky Colombian, whose cult-hero status was further enhanced by a magnificent hat-trick in the 3-2 home defeat of European giants Barcelona, a night which provided a sadly all-too-brief glimpse of his rare talent.
After leaving Newcastle, he returned for a brief spell at Parma before fading into obscurity, reappearing in 2004 as the subject of an audacious (but failed) bid from Darlington. In 2009, Asprilla received a house arrest for apparent ‘misuse of weapons’ after firing a machine gun at a security base near his home. More recently, he was spotted in the Newcastle end at last season’s Tyne-Wear derby, surely affirming his status as fan’s favourite on Tyneside.