FABIAN SCHAR can vividly remember his only previous visit to Milan’s famous San Siro. He was a teenager, starting to make his way in football, and he journeyed across the border from his native Switzerland to watch AC Milan take on Inter in Serie A’s most famous derby.

More than a decade on, and Schar will be back in the San Siro tomorrow evening as Newcastle United take on AC Milan in their opening group game in this season’s Champions League. There is understandable excitement at the Magpies’ return to Europe’s premier club competition after an absence of more than two decades, with around 10,000 fans expected to make the journey from Tyneside to Italy.

For Schar, though, tomorrow’s trip could hardly be more different to his first trek to one of the most storied and evocative stadiums in the world. Yes, Newcastle’s players are thrilled to be playing at the San Siro. Yes, the Swiss centre-half cannot wait to line up against the famous red-and-black shirts of AC Milan. But unlike on his previous excursion, Schar will not be heading into tomorrow’s game as a footballing tourist. This time around, he is going to Milan to win.

“I’ve never played there, but I’ve been there when I was young to watch a game,” said Schar, who is set to partner Sven Botman as the heart of Newcastle’s back four tomorrow. “When I was there, I just went as a tourist, as a fan to watch the Milan derby. I can't really remember how old I was at the time, but we just took in a game.

“Now, I get the chance to go there as a player. You want to play in the biggest stadiums, and that’s what the Champions League gives you. It’s the biggest competition with the best teams and the best stadiums. I wasn’t specifically thinking about playing there necessarily, but competing on this level is something we earned last season and we can only be happy about that.

“We’re not going there for a day out though. You work a whole year to get to the Champions League. We’re a very strong team for this competition and, in every game, we want to compete against the best teams. That’s what we’re going for.”

Having exceeded expectations to finish in fourth position last season and claim a Champions League spot, Newcastle’s players gathered together at the training ground last month to watch the draw for the group stage.


The club arranged an event where the training-ground staff and their families were also invited, so what was the atmosphere like when Newcastle were handed arguably the toughest assignment possible, with matches against Borussia Dortmund and Paris St Germain accompanying the double-header with AC Milan?

“I think we knew before that we were probably going to get a tough group because we were in (pot) four,” said Schar, who has previous experience of playing in the Champions League from his time with Basel. “I think our reaction at seeing the draw was just that we were really happy to be in the Champions League.

“We can’t really do anything about the draw now! You want to play against the best teams and have some great games, so we’ll just enjoy it.”

The Northern Echo: Fabian Schar applauds the Newcastle United fans with Eddie HoweFabian Schar applauds the Newcastle United fans with Eddie Howe (Image: PA)

It will be easier for Schar and his team-mates to enjoy the Champions League experience on the back of Saturday’s hard-fought victory over Brentford, which successfully drew a line under the three successive defeats that had preceded the international break.

Had Newcastle been unable to see off a Brentford side that caused plenty of problems in the opening half-an-hour in particular, they would have been heading to Milan under something of a cloud, with their start to the season firmly under the microscope.

As it is, for all that Schar understandably wants to shake off any suggestion that Newcastle can treat tomorrow’s game as something of a free hit, the pressure is off as the Magpies prepare to take on a Milan side who are having to do their own bout of soul-searching in the wake of Saturday’s 5-1 derby thrashing at the hands of Inter.

Schar does not read too much into that result – “I’ll be honest, I don’t really think it has any influence on our game” – but readily admits that Saturday’s result at St James’ Park has put an added spring into Newcastle’s step ahead of the first leg of their European adventure.

“It was a very hard game against Brentford,” he said. “We put everything on the line to get the three points and get us over the line, and we’re very happy as a team to have come away with a clean sheet. That was very important to us.

“It was important to get the win in terms of the season, and also to make sure that we are going into the Champions League feeling good. We hadn’t had the best results in the previous few games, so we needed to win this one.

“It fills us with confidence. The games are coming quickly now, so that’s a really good start after the international break. We can go into Tuesday happy after the win, and ready for the challenge of Milan.”