With Colo’s time in Newcastle drawing to a close, just how will ‘El Capitan’ be remembered in Tyneside?
It was the summer of 2008 and optimism was rife. Kevin Keegan was embarking upon his first pre-season following a sensational return to St. James Park, and we, the Newcastle faithful, were more than ready for our third instalment of the Keegan love story.
This time however, the tale was to end in tragedy.
By the time the transfer window closed, Keegan had walked away. A now notorious summer of deceitful wheeling and dealing by Dennis Wise, culminated in Keegan’s targets being squashed, James Milner being sold, and most notoriously of all, Xisco signed.
The only signings of any real merit during this most tumultuous of summers, were two Argentinians. Spiderman mask-toting winger, Jonas Gutierrez, and curly-hair defender, Fabricio Coloccini. Little did the duo realise, but their arrival on Tyneside was about to coincide with one of the biggest sh*t storms in Newcastle United’s history.
Their first season in England was a disaster. From the moment Keegan walked, the place fell apart. The horrifically incompetent Joe Kinnear arrived and made a bad situation worse, Shearer then tried to save the day, but by May, the inevitable relegation had followed.
Once down, Coloccini used The Championship as a platform to really adapt himself to the harsh realities of English football. He clearly had quality, but had struggled to get to grips with the Premier League – especially whilst being caught in the toxic whirlwind of the 2008/09 season.
In the relatively calmer surroundings of the second tier, Colo was an absolute class above and rarely looked to have even broken a sweat. The Championship proved to be the perfect setting to really acclimatise and gain confidence before returning to the top flight the fine player we all suspected he was.
In summer 2011, after the departures of senior dressing room leaders Nolan, Smith and Barton, it was Coloccini who took the mantle and became the captain of the new look dressing room. From this point, Colo really began to show his true quality.
During the now infamous ‘fifth’ season where Newcastle miraculously finished just outside the Champions League places, Coloccini was pure class. Imperious throughout, leading by example rather than by instruction, and culminating with a well-deserved place in the PFA Team of the Season for 2011/12.
Just a few months later, at the Stadium of Light, Coloccini produced the FINEST defensive display this writer has ever seen in a Black and White shirt. One-nil up, and reduced to ten men with just twenty minutes on the clock, Newcastle had their backs against the wall.
For eighty minutes Coloccini was Bobby Moore. He read every ball and intercepted every pass, almost single-handedly keeping Sunderland out. It wasn’t until he was forced off with ten minutes remaining that Sunderland finally managed to sneak a wickedly deflected equaliser.
Sadly, following this cruellest of blows at the Stadium of Light, both Coloccini and Newcastle’s fate began to turn. Later that season, rumours of the captain’s personal life were rife on Tyneside as Coloccini looked to return to Argentina. The club blocked the move, but from this point on he was never again the same player.
In the seasons to follow, as Newcastle’s form plummeted dramatically, his captaincy was brought under severe scrutiny. Far too often, when things began to unravel on the pitch, the captain was nowhere to be found. Head down and mute when a team already lacking in voices needed a leader.
Never was Coloccini seen barking orders to his team. Never was he seen bollocking his egotistical and lethargic teammates. And never would he front up and face the media following game after game of inept Newcastle displays.
Following the failed move back to San Lorenzo, Coloccini’s injury record also seemed to strangely worsen. Many fans grew suspicious of the mysterious ‘injury’ he seemed to pick up around Easter time every year. The whole sorry situation began to stink and was in dire need of resolution.
With the McClaren era supposedly signalling a new start, it seemed the fitting time for both parties to say their goodbyes and move on. So the bizarre decision to give a new deal to an ageing, unhappy, supposedly injury-prone player, raised more than a few eyebrows.
It was a decision that both parties would live to regret. The club have now been relegated, with their failure to replace Colo cited as one of major reasons. As for Fabricio, after eight years of service, his time on Tyneside has now become tainted, drawn to a sad and disappointing end.
So how will Coloccini be remembered on Tyneside? As the peerless defender of 2009-12, or the deficient skipper of 2013-16?
Coloccini had the potential to be a true Newcastle legend. At his best, he was one of the finest defenders the club has ever had. Like the truly great defenders, he was always one step ahead on the pitch, possessing the natural ability to put out a fire before it had even started.
When times are good, leading quietly by example can be inspirational; but when times are bad, a team needs more from their skipper. Those fine performances need to be combined with guidance, inspiration and a dogged determination – When the chips were down, our captain went missing.
Maybe if Colo had taken a leaf from his friend Jonas’ book, things may have been different.
Gutierrez was not as gifted a footballer as Coloccini – but what Jonas lacked in God-given ability, he more than made up for in his effort, his determination and his heart.
It is these qualities that we Newcastle fans value higher than any other, and sadly for Colo, it is for these reasons why he will never be loved on Tyneside quite like Jonas is.
If circumstances had been different, and with the luxury of hindsight, Jonas now seems a far more appropriate choice of skipper than his countryman.
Fabricio Coloccini will be remembered in Newcastle as one of the most naturally gifted defenders the club has ever had, but sadly as a captain, he will be remembered for not being there when his team needed him the most.
Adios Colo, it may not have ended as we’d hoped, but it’s finally time to go home.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonnyanderson11