Former striker Chopra believes Newcastle are back where they 'deserve to be'

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Former striker Chopra believes Newcastle are back where they 'deserve to be'
Michael Chopra celebrates scoring for Newcastle United against Sunderland
Michael Chopra celebrates scoring for Newcastle United against Sunderland
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Michael Chopra (39) is excited to see former club Newcastle United now on the way to reaching their full potential.

The former Toon striker fulfilled a boyhood dream by not only playing for his hometown club - but also tasting Champions League football at the time. Cycle 20 years forward and Newcastle are back in Europe's elite and no-one could be happier than their former striker.

"Newcastle were flying when I was part of the team in the early 2000s," Chopra told Tribal Football.

"Yeah, it turned sour when (Mike) Ashley got the club... but I always thought it was just a matter of time before someone would get their hands on the club and put it back in the place that it deserves to be.

"The new owners have come and have done a fantastic job, not only with the football club but also with the surroundings of the area."

Chopra, now living in Amsterdam, also backs the owners' approach to transfer spending. The gradual building of Eddie Howe's squad is something he supports.

"They are spending money on new players in a progressive way," says Chopra, "and this is a nice thing to see. Hopefully, it will continue and we can progress year after year."

Newcastle currently in the Premier League
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Going back a generation, Chopra was part of an era when Newcastle were a genuine title threat - and also competitive in Europe. Indeed, Chopra enjoyed some of his best moments in a Toon shirt in European competition. Making his debut against Barcelona is still a moment that evokes special memories.

"Listen, yes that's a thing I remember very well and it brings me a lot of good memories," Chopra smiled.

"I didn't play many minutes, but I was on the pitch with some of the greatest players playing for Barcelona.

"It was a great day for me and I remember it as if it was today. To make my debut in the Champions League against Barcelona and in an iconic stadium like Camp Nou... it was special."

While a Geordie through-and-through, Chopra made the great divide during his career, leaving the Tyne for the Wear and signing for Sunderland. It was a decision he didn't take lightly and admits it was one man at the Stadium of Light who convinced him to make the move.

"I had great experiences with all the clubs I played for," recalls Chopra.

"At Newcastle, it was my boyhood club and I realised the dream to play with my idol Alan Shearer.

"At Sunderland, it was much tougher due to the fact I was a Newcastle fan, but I went there as Roy Keane was the manager and I had my dream of wanting to be coached by him."

Chopra admits he wasn't sure how the Sunderland support would take to him. But the concerns quickly disappeared after the first game of that 2007/08 Premier League season.

"Yes, it's tough for a Newcastle boy to go and play for Sunderland. A lot of fans of Sunderland didn't want me at the club - but that soon changed!

"In our first game of the season against Tottenham, I scored the winner and soon the Sunderland fans understood that they should put the Newcastle thing behind them and concentrate on me being a footballer and trying to do well for them.

"Then in the second game, I scored! So we played two games and I scored twice. Football has its ups and downs, but if you do well on the pitch of course the fans will judge you differently and the Sunderland fans did just that."

While he had his moments with Newcastle and Sunderland, it was at Cardiff City where Chopra reached his potential. Chopra would score 22 goals in 42 games for the Bluebirds in season 2006/07. Having signed from Newcastle for £500,000, that campaign saw Chopra earn his Premier League return with Sunderland for a fee rising to £5m.

"At Cardiff, I had my best playing level of my career and also I had a great connection with the fans," says Chopra.

“Cardiff was the team that got the best out of me. I don't know if it was because of the style of play or due to the players I was playing with, but in every game I went into I felt and knew that I would score goals.

"In that season I think I finished second top scorer in the Championship, which was not bad for my first year in the league. For me to score that amount of goals... it was a great achievement."

Reflecting on his time in the game, Chopra admits he mixed with greatness. And it was an experience that he reflects upon with pride.

"I had a lot of difficult opponents," he recalls, considering some of the defenders he locked horns with. "Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell, these were all world-class defenders and difficult to get the better of.

"Then, I also played with and against some very important strikers like Shearer, (Patrick) Kluivert, (Wayne) Rooney and (Michael) Owen."

After a 16-year pro career of almost 400 games, Chopra remains in football today. Now he is involved with the charity Football for Peace and is hoping to pass on his knowledge and experience to budding future pros.

"Currently I am living in Amsterdam, and I am an ambassador for a charity organisation called Football for Peace," says Chopra. 

"I am trying to give something back to the community to the people who need it and try to help them on their path to becoming professional football players.

"It's a privilege to work with these kids and to help them in their future. Yes, it's a great charity to be involved with and I'm loving every minute of it."

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