Newcastle United flop Xisco finds redemption in Thailand
Xisco Jimenez has been at his new Asian club for less than nine months, but he's already achieved more than during a miserable five years in England. One goal in 11 Newcastle United appearances, across three different competitions between 2008 and 2013, saw the Spaniard regularly shipped out on-loan and named on more than one worst-ever list.
His £5.7 million signing at St James' Park was seen as a graphic example of the excesses of the dysfunctional era when Dennis Wise was the club's executive director.
Xisco carried the unenviable tag of being the seventh-choice striker at Newcastle, behind even the likes of Peter Lovenkrands and Shola Ameobi. But he's the undisputed No. 1 at Thailand's Muang Thong United, even more so after Tuesday night's winner gave the minnows from Southeast Asia a famous 2-1 victory over Japanese champions Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League (ACL).
To put this upset into perspective, it would be like Bulgaria's Ludogorets Razgrad defeating Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the European equivalent of the Asian club tournament. Indeed, an indication of Kashima's strength was the fact that they led Real Madrid 2-1 after an hour of last December's FIFA World Club World Cup final before some Cristiano Ronaldo magic saw the Spaniards prevail after extra time.
So when Xisco popped up with his cool left-footed finish after 94 minutes in Bangkok, the 30-year-old guaranteed himself a place in Thai sporting folklore. It was the first-ever ACL victory by Muang Thong United, and a rare success against Japanese opponents, seen as the benchmark for regional football.
'It's an amazing feeling to win a game in the Asian Champions League," Xisco told ESPN FC. "I'm very proud to be the man who scored the winning goal, and to make a little bit of history with this amazing club.
"It is the first time I have played in this competition. This is the biggest competition in Asia, so it is also very important for me to keep scoring to help the team win games."
On a memorable night on Matchday 2, Muang Thong took a 12th minute lead after a free kick from left-back Theerathon Bunmathan. The J-League giants equalised through Pedro Junior early in the second half before Xisco sent the Supachalasai Stadium crowd into raptures.
With the game heading for an unsatisfying draw, Adisak Kraisorn found Tristan Do on the right. His cross was fumbled by Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae, and Xisco pounced on the rebound to secure all three points.
The victory maintained Muang Thong's unbeaten start to the 2017 ACL after they had the better of a 0-0 draw away to Brisbane Roar, who had knocked out Carlos Tevez's Shanghai Shenhua two weeks earlier.
The Thais had been unlucky in Australia where Xisco had failed to convert some gilt-edged chances. But the good fortune seemed to balance out on Matchday 2. Kashima's Yuma Suzuki missed a penalty in the last 10 minutes before Xisco was the right man in the right place at the death.
"Yes, I think [we deserved some luck] because we also played a serious game today," he said. "In the second half, they scored quickly, and that changed the game a bit we still believed that we could win the game.
"We tried until the last minute and, finally, I think the goal was well deserved for the team because we did a great job."
Xisco has now scored 11 times in all competitions since his move to Thailand from Spanish second tier side Cordoba CF last July, including six in the league. Along with Florent Sinama Pongolle (Liverpool) and Leroy Lita (Swansea City and Reading) he is one three ex-Premier League strikers plying their trade in Thai League T1.
Little did Xisco and Lita realise when they faced each other in an England-Spain U21 international in Derby in 2007 that they would be playing for rival clubs in Southeast Asia a decade later.
Xisco has tried to put his unfortunate English chapter behind him -- in 2012, the Newcastle Chronicle listed him as one of the strikers who had problems "hitting a barn door" -- but is delighted to be part of Muang Thong's surprising Asian run.
Sitting top of ACL Group E, they will now travel to South Korea to face Ulsan Hyundai on March 14.
"We have to just focus on the next game in Korea," he said. "So we have to go step-by-step and we have to keep doing what we are doing -- that is doing a great job on the pitch and believing that we can beat any team."
After re-discovering his scoring touch in Spain with Cordoba, Majorca-born Xisco has now found an unlikely home in Thailand's Nonthaburi Province with his wife and three children. His demoralising Newcastle chapter, where he saw four managers in his first season, is now firmly in his career rear vision mirror.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.