Reviving the Premier League footballers you forgot existed….
For almost 20 years Robert Carlos, the legendary Brazilian full-back and set-piece taker extraordinaire, has been dining out on THAT free-kick.
Mrs Carlos must be getting sick to the back teeth of hearing about that time Robbie lined one up against France in Le Tournoi back in ’97 and miraculously bent it around the wall with the outside of his left boot, to great acclaim.
But would that 35-yard strike be so renowned if Carlos, instead of being a sexy South American superstar from Real Madrid, was a mullet-haired Mark Knopfler lookalike from Switzerland?
The answer is no – and the proof is Marc Hottiger.
More than two years before Carlos unleashed his famous French bender, Newcastle’s eminently less fashionable full-back scored an almost identical goal – a swerving, left-footed, outside-of-the-boot thunderbolt against Blackburn that is remembered by no one except a few Magpies fans, and possibly Tim Flowers.
Nowadays, unlike Carlos, Hottiger’s name is rarely mentioned in discussions about history’s most explosive full-backs.
Admittedly, this is partly because he is not known to have scored a single goal like that again.
Nevertheless, Hottiger was a well-regarded Swiss international when Kevin Keegan paid Sion £525,000 to bring him to St James’s Park in August 1994 following his solid displays at that summer’s World Cup.
A left-footer who played on the right, the 26-year-old defender was joining a swashbuckling Magpies side brimming with positivity on its second season back in the top flight following a long spell in the wilderness - Keegan’s entertainers having finished third the previous year with Andy Cole netting 41 goals.
With his slightly rebellious gold stud earring and an uncanny resemblance to the aforementioned lead singer from Dire Straits, St James’s Park was abuzz for Hottiger’s debut against Coventry (probably not because of him, but still).
“It was an electric atmosphere,” recalled one fan on the NUFC Forum. “Attacking the Leazes Stand, he put in a disappointing cross that became a cross-come-shot and just cleared the bar. The enthusiasm in the crowd for new players and for that team was so high that it was greeted like it went really close and was deliberate. Trotting back into position I got the impression he was loving this new chapter.”
St James’s was that kind of place in the mid-1990s, and rightly so. The Geordies initially seemed destined to win the title that season – going unbeaten in their first 17 games (winning 15 of them).
But then came the slump. In the next 16 games, the Magpies won just twice. But worse than that, Keegan sanctioned the £7m sale of Cole to Manchester United.
“It was a very emotional time leading up to the Blackburn game,” revealed one fan of the FA Cup third round replay at Ewood Park 10 days after Cole’s departure.
That is when Hottiger would choose his moment to strike.
When the out-of-form, injury-hit Magpies won a free-kick with five minutes remaining and the tie poised at 1-1, the set-piece was rolled into Hottiger’s path and he showed dazzling technique to bend it home.
“A Roberto Carlos before anybody had heard of Roberto Carlos,” declared one fan.
“One of my favourite ever Newcastle goals,” beamed another. “The win renewed everybody’s faith in the team and manager, which was only slightly doubted.”
Left-footed screamers weren’t the only thing Hottiger had in common with Carlos.
One fan’s description - “loved to bomb forward, not that great at defending” – could have applied to the great Brazilian himself.
Another assessment - “He was decent but not as good as Stevie Watson” - possibly less so.
The Magpies’ FA Cup run eventually ended in the quarter-finals while they finished sixth in the league, with Hottiger playing 38 games and acquitting himself well.
“I always rated Hottiger. A decent player who never shirked a tackle and always played for the badge,” summarised one fan.
But when Keegan made £4m Warren Barton the most expensive defender in English football history that summer (yep, that happened), Hottiger’s days on Tyneside were numbered.
His Premiership stock remained high though.
“I remember Ceefax announcing ‘Everton to sign World Cup star’,” said one Toffees fan on the Grand Old Team forum as he recalled that exciting morning of 19 January 1996.
The subsequent disappointment of learning that the player in question was Hottiger, who had moved to Goodison Park for £700,000, turned out to be rather prescient. Hottiger’s time on Merseyside was not successful.
“Shockingly bad”, “bobbins” and “full on dog turd” were among the more colourful descriptions of the right-back’s contribution.
“Up there with Mitch Ward and Carl Tiler in the pantheon of Everton greats,” commented another fan bitterly.
As such, Hottiger was quietly ushered out of English football the following year in a £25,000 move to his hometown club Lausanne.
You can probably still find him there, knocking back Lucozades in a bar overlooking Lake Geneva, telling anyone who will listen that he taught Roberto Carlos how to take free-kicks. No one’s listening, but it’s actually true.
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