Fabricio Coloccini holds the future of Newcastle United in his hands. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas argues there is a burden of responsibility on the defender to stay at St James’ Park, at least until the summer.
THESE days, they are used to heartbreak at the cathedral on the hill.
Weary Newcastle fans have seen St James’ Park become a staging point for the careers of Andy Carroll, Demba Ba and even lesser lights like Jose Enrique.
It is modern football, of course – but also a jarring reminder United’s place is no longer at the head of the Premier League’s top table.
Anger and bile at a perceived lack of loyalty have long been replaced by the sort of defiance which saw the crowd erupt in wild celebration when Papiss Cisse scored his early goal in the first game of the post-Ba era.
It takes something to shock Tyneside’s increasingly hard-bitten hordes, but news of Fabricio Coloccini’s desire to depart has done just that. After all that they have been through together, the sense of rejection is palpable.
No wonder they are feeling so raw. Coloccini is the talisman, the leader of a new generation. His exit would cut right to the heart of Newcastle United.
When Newcastle needed a leader in the wake of the summer revolution which saw Kevin Nolan dethroned as the leader of the influential players’ committee, Coloccini quickly emerged as Pardew’s ideal candidate.
Others saw the appeal of firebrand midfielder Cheick Tiote or the tub-thumping Steven Taylor, but Coloccini looked to the manager like the perfect fit.
He was not a typically British captain but he stood for honesty, integrity and professionalism – and, of course, he was exceptionally talented.
He also represented the values which would underpin Pardew’s re-imagining of Newcastle. A cosmopolitan dressing room needed someone who could sympathise with those re-settling on Tyneside – and he brought democracy to the role.
Players out on the fringes of the first team no longer felt cowed by the presence of established British names.
That is not to say he was a pushover. Coloccini was the first to confront Joey Barton over the infamous Elland Road Tweets which so undermined Newcastle’s preparations for the start of last season, a show of strength which impressed both Pardew and the hierarchy.
Coloccini represented the ‘new Newcastle’ United’s key power brokers were trying to construct and for that reason they were prepared to be flexible in their contract negotiations with him last season.
This was a board which brokered no negotiation with Nolan, yet they were prepared to acquiesce to Coloccini’s concerns about ambition and length-of-contract.
To give a 29-year-old a four-and-a-half year contract was something remarkable and represented a ringing endorsement of their Cordoba general’s conduct on and off the field.
What changed? A personal issue whch is pressing has played its part. There is no reason to doubt the validity of his claims a family crisis is behind his shock decision to seek a move home.
Coloccini is no Demba Ba, who employed a team of agents to find him the most lucrative move almost as soon as he got his feet under the table at St James’ Park.
He gives 25% of his wages to charities back home and funds his own children’s foundation in Cordoba.
When The Journal ran a wide-ranging interview about the Mama Sylvia Foundation, he asked for copies to send home.
United, though, have been understanding to their captain too.
The four-and-a-half year contract which was painstakingly negotiated a year ago represents a commitment unlike anything they have issued before – and Coloccini must honour it.
The least he owes the club is to thrash out an exit strategy which doesn’t inflict a mortal blow on their hopes of retaining their Premier League status.
He is a smart man who has been hurt by the club’s defensive problems – and he must recognise these will increase ten-fold if he departs.
United will be aware of the worrying parallels with their 2009 season – when Shay Given requested a transfer on the eve of the January transfer window.
Given was a gentleman, too. He had stuck with Newcastle through thick and thin, but the way the club was being administered, plus an eye-watering offer whch guaranteed financial security for him and his family, pushed him to the edge. Newcastle tried to persuade him to stay, too – unsuccessfully.
With a more than adequate replacement in Steve Harper, it is worth pointing out United did not go down that year because they lost Given.
However, it represented a deeper malaise at the club such a reasonable character would be agitating for the exit.
United insiders are adamant the Coloccini news is not an indication of disaffection in the dressing room.
The disagreement Pardew alluded to the other week was nothing more serious than a challenge to him to show a bit more leadership.
Still, there is a pressing need for United’s power brokers to re-assume control of a situation spiraling desperately out of control.
The mistakes of the summer – when lack of ambition and flexibility in their recruitment process strangled any hopes of progress – are cutting hard.
To lose a top scorer in a transfer window is bad enough, but to leak a captain and talisman is nothing short of disastrous. Given they looked two or three players short of having a competitive squad before the window opened, the need for reinforcements has gone from pressing to urgent.