Argentine footballer Jonas Gutierrez was frozen out by Newcastle United after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, he told an employment tribunal on Tuesday.
Gutierrez, who has launched a claim for disability discrimination against the club, joined Newcastle in 2008 and underwent an operation to remove a tumour in his left testicle in October 2013.
He said that despite feeling that he was returning to fitness, he was told by then manager Alan Pardew in December 2013 that his services were no longer required.
“This was the first time I – or any of my representatives – had been notified of this and came as a great shock, so soon after my cancer treatment,” Gutierrez, 32, told the tribunal in Birmingham, central England.
“I was very shocked by the club’s sudden change of heart about me, particularly as I had played in 194 games for the club at this point and was one of the key first-team players.”
Gutierrez, who is currently playing in Spain for Deportivo La Coruna, still had 19 months to run on his contract at that point and believes he was told he could leave by Newcastle solely due to his illness.
“I believe that the reason for this was due to my cancer diagnosis and very recent operation to remove the tumour,” he said.
“I think they feared my illness would mean that I could no longer play at the highest level and they considered me to be a liability rather than an asset to the club.”
Gutierrez claimed that Newcastle deliberately prevented him from playing so as to prevent an automatic 12-month contract extension being triggered.
He said the deal would have kicked in if he had started 80 games between 2011 and 2015, but he only made 78 starts during that period.
Gutierrez, a former Argentina international, is reported to be seeking a payment of £2 million.
He also told the tribunal that nobody from the club had contacted him during his chemotherapy, but added that Pardew, now the Crystal Palace manager, had later apologised.
Gutierrez was loaned to Norwich City in January 2014 and did not return to action for Newcastle until the end of last season.
He scored in a 2-0 win over West Ham United on the season’s final day that kept the club in the Premier League.