You don’t appreciate a player like him until he’s not there…
He is not a standout member of this Newcastle side but Jack Colback’s contribution might be best judged in his absence.
Ask a Newcastle United fan to name the best player at the club and Jack Colback’s name will not be at the top of anyone’s list.
He’s been described as Ginger Pirlo by Roy Hodgson and labelled The Crab in less complimentary fashion by fans at his former club. The truth lies somewhere in between. A hideous thought, one taken directly from David Cronenberg’s scrapbook, though Jack is probably more crustacean than creative playmaker (in strictly footballing terms, of course).
You might not find him spraying forty yard passes around SJP or slamming home 25-yarders – save for that corker against Burnley in January – but Jack is easily one of United’s most consistent performers, a man that can be relied upon week in, week out.
His work is not as eye-catching as that of a fleet-footed winger, strapping centre-forward or commanding centre-half, but Colback is the quietly purring engine in this Newcastle side, and they will likely miss his industry down the road.
Before Lee Cattermole gifted him a set of crutches and a knee brace as early Christmas presents, Jack’s influence was keenly felt in the derby. Two of his set-pieces were responsible for two decent chances and he almost got on the scoresheet twice himself, an unfortunate deflection and an uncertain parry denying the ginger Geordie the ultimate redemption.
On the rare occasions when Sunderland came forward, he performed his regular duties manfully, making three or four key interceptions, always on hand to offer a simple outlet, keeping hold of the ball in dangerous areas. The usual.
Did his premature departure at the Stadium of Light affect the outcome of the game? Possibly. Down to ten men and chasing the game, there were always going to be gaps to exploit, stretched wider by the 26-year-old’s absence. Coloccini’s earlier dismissal mitigated the impact of Colback’s injury, but that won’t be the case when Stoke come to town today.
It begs the question: who will perform the background tasks in Jack’s stead?
When Colback missed three games last season, his role was occupied by Mehdi Abeid, who proved himself a more than capable deputy. The Algerian is long gone, plying his trade over two thousand miles away in the bankruptcy capital of Europe.
Thus, when Colback was unavailable for the Manchester City game a few weeks back, it was Yoan Gouffran who filled in. We all know how that turned out.
Now, the signs point towards an unchanged formation and a Tioté-Anita partnership. There are few qualms about Anita’s inclusion, particularly given the circumstances, but his Ivorian counterpart is about as reliable as an old Ford Pinto, one towed off at half-time when the red light starts blinking.
Tioté has never been dismissed for a second yellow throughout his five years on Tyneside – a staggering statistic – but his performances are often muted after going in the book.
It took less than six minutes for the referee to take his name against Norwich, and he lasted just eight minutes longer at Sunderland, the first half largely passing him by thereafter.
In short, he’s a reckless liability who offers a mere fraction of what he did when he first arrived. Tioté is ready to be traded in for a sturdier, less volatile model – that is, if any dealer will take him. Do they still drive Pintos in Turkey?
Steve McClaren has previously favoured two defensive-minded players in the central midfield berths, and that, sadly, is unlikely to change with his hardest grafter sidelined.
Neither replacement puts the miles on the clock quite like Colback, whose comfort on the ball and controlled intensity in the challenge are lacking from the games of Cheick and Vurnon respectively.
Granted, the 26-year-old is nowhere near justifying the England manager’s frankly ridiculous appraisal – Ginger Pirlo he ain’t – but Jack’s a better player than he is given credit for. The replacement, whoever he may be, needs to match his output, or else the creaking defence will be exposed further.
Gini, Mitro and Ayoze are expected to be United’s driving forces in the coming months, but Jack Colback is every bit as important, as much for his workrate and consistency as the dearth of like for like alternatives.
After some encouraging signs in previous games, here’s hoping the wheels don’t fall off in his absence.
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