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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Chaplain backs Gutierrez in ex-Newcastle star’s dispute with former club

The Chaplain for Sport has called on football clubs to treat players “not merely as assets but as people” after Jonas Gutierrez won a discrimination tribunal case against his former club, Newcastle United.

An employment tribunal found that the Argentine midfielder had been ditched by Newcastle after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Gutierrez, 32, accused the club of freezing him out of the first team after he fell ill in 2013. He said the management ensured he failed to make enough appearances on the pitch to trigger a lucrative one-year contract extension worth up to £2 million.

Fr Vladimir Felzmann, the Chaplain for Sport and CEO for the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, told The Universe that mistreatment of players and staff by football clubs often led to problems on the pitch. “As with Chelsea, and Jose Mourinho’s shabby treatment of his team doctor, Eva Carneiro, Newcastle have performed well below par this year; their poor performances leaving them perilously close to being relegated from the Premier League,” he said.

Last year, Newcastle managed to avoid relegation to the Football League Championship, with Gutierrez, who now plays for Spanish club Deportivo de La Coruñ, playing a major role in their Premier League survival. The midfielder took centre stage as Newcastle’s hero in a 2-0 home win to West Ham on the final day of the season, assisting with the first goal and scoring the second. “The club seems to have a very short memory,” said Fr Felzmann.

This season, Newcastle have yet again found themselves embroiled in a relegation battle, with Fr Felzmann describing it as a warning to other clubs. “Dante and his Inferno – wherein God is not comprehensively merciful – might depict Newcastle United’s slide down into the Football League Championship as a just reward for their inhumanity to their man Jonas Gutierrez,” he said.

“Virtue tends to have its reward. Vice its punishment. Other clubs might be wise to learn.”

However, in a series of tweets after the ruling, Gutierrez declared his still deep affection for his old club. “I am a Geordie,” he tweeted, “thanks Newcastle fans for your support. I love the city. I hope we stay up. Come on the Toon. Once a Geordie always a Geordie,” he wrote.

In another he explained it is “the players not the board” who make a club, adding, “Always in my heart Geordie nation. I love you.”

Fr Felzmann explained that on-the-pitch problems could often be linked a drop in team morale. “Though never too close to each other, as their colleague might all too soon be sold-off to become their adversary, team members do have their spirit and at least subconscious physiologies,” he said.

“Maltreatment of any players or team members who are struck by an illness or disability generates a lowering of morale and thus commitment; with its inevitable ‘bad luck’ and mistakes.

“Football Clubs should learn to treat players not merely as assets but as people,” added Fr Felzmann, stressing that football players should be treated with the same dignity, respect, and in the same manner, every decent company would treat disabled employees or those struck by an illness.

Newcastle travel to Anfield today where they will face current manager Rafael Benítez’s former club, Liverpool FC.

Picture: Former Newcastle United star Jonas Gutierrez. (Nigel French/PA).