Culture shock

Inside the story of Newcastle playmaker’s forgotten ‘culture shock’ loan after Steve Nickson move

Rodrigo Vilca’s long-term future with Newcastle United looks in doubt after a loan spell at Doncaster Rovers proved to be a ‘culture shock’.

The Peruvian playmaker has scored twice in 13 appearances for the Ligue 1 side and is reportedly set for a temporary return home with champions Alianza Lima.

Vilca’s return from the Keepmoat Stadium has come at his own request, and it is understood by ChronicleLive that the 22-year-old remains keen on a chance to claim a first-team spot.

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The attacking midfielder agreed a four-year deal at St James’ Park in October last year, signing for £225,000 from Deportivo Muncipal following a recommendation to head scout Steve Nickson.

However, Vilca has yet to make a senior black-and-white appearance, and a farewell message on social media to Doncaster fans was met with indifference after a forgettable spell at Keepmoat Stadium.

Season ticket holder Chris Donald told ChronicleLive: “Honestly, it didn’t have enough of an impact for the fans to really care about anyway.

“Rovers fans love a trier – that’s all we ask for. This season we haven’t seen that from any player at all. It’s on top of the awful season we’ve had so far. present, I think the fans are happy to see the back of any player who leaves us.

“He wasn’t terrible compared to others, but in terms of what Rovers need right now, he’s not.”

Tom Biltcliffe, who covers Rovers for BBC Radio Sheffield, added: “I think it would be fair to say that the League One cut and push has been a bit of a culture shock for Vilca.”

Vilca’s arrival at Doncaster was confirmed on deadline day, with Newcastle expected to pay the attacking midfielder’s wages for the duration of his stay.

A long-term injury to winger Jon Taylor prompted the move, although there have been suggestions that former Doncaster boss Richie Wellens never saw the Newcastle prospect play before his arrival .

Vilca made his debut in a humiliating 6-0 home loss to Rotherham United in the EFL Trophy a week later, and would alternate between starts and substitute appearances on both flanks.

It’s been a rotten campaign so far for Doncaster who remain entrenched at the bottom of the League One table, and the Peruvian striker hasn’t shown consistency in his performances.

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Donald said: “He was hard to pin down because he was too inside and outside the side.

“I don’t know if it was because of the injuries or the manager, but he never really started. The previews we saw had some positives though.

“He has mainly played out of the way, which I think is not his position. He has neither the strength nor the pace to beat experienced full-backs in England.

“His best performances have come when he’s played in the 10 behind the striker. He’s got quick feet and can find those pockets of space pretty well – that’s where his only league goal came from after recovering the ball after a touch.

“He’s definitely a luxury player at our level.”

Wellens was fired in December after just six months in charge, and Vilca’s last appearance for a Rovers side came in the goalless draw with Lincoln City on November 20.

This was partly due to a hamstring injury, but it quickly became clear that the loanee would not feature in new boss Gary McSheffrey’s plans.

Vilca’s ‘remarkable moment’ in a Rovers shirt came with a fine strike in the win over Cheltenham Town in October, but his spell in Yorkshire was otherwise unremarkable.

Biltcliffe said: “McSheffrey didn’t seem too keen on retaining his services and feels he can put his own mark on the team and prioritize other areas of the squad in the loan market.

“Having not played since November due to injury, he has been the forgotten man at the Eco-Power Stadium and Rovers fans will not dwell on his return to the North East.”

Reports indicated that a return to Peru on loan with Alianza Lima was close at the start of January, although neither club had confirmed the deal.

Vilca will celebrate his 23rd birthday in March, and the inevitable question after a disappointing spell with Doncaster is whether the striker can make a difference at Newcastle.

Asked what Magpies supporters should expect from Vilca, Donald replied: “Not a lot. I would be very surprised if he were to have any impact at all.

“I would be happy for him to prove my opinion wrong, but he is too light and not fast enough or strong enough to even consider making an impact at Championship level, let alone in the Premier League.”

“Overall, I honestly think there’s a player in there somewhere, but I haven’t seen enough of it and when we did it didn’t show.”

It’s an assessment shared by Biltcliffe, who admits he would be surprised to see Vilca feature in Newcastle’s first team.

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He said: “Vilca looks like he needs games, that’s the main thing. We’re talking about someone turning 23 in March, rather than a child.

“If he can’t physically compete at the third tier, he needs to add some trickery to his game.

“I would be just amazed if he ever played a game for United’s first team.”