Losing captain Coloccini would leave Newcastle in dire straits



If there's one person on earth I didn't want to be last week - other than the massive black cat that presumably thought it was safe to catch a quick snooze under the wheels of Jon Walters' Land Rover - it was Alan Pardew.

After having his pants pulled down on the South Coast by Brighton and Hove Albion, in a manner that would have humiliated even the most seasoned pantomime dame, he was the first to acknowledge that he was going through his most difficult period at Newcastle United. All this merely a fortnight after he became the club's longest serving manager since the late Sir Bobby Robson.

The squad was down to its bare bones, they sat perilously close to the relegation zone, and their star centre-forward had just been prised away on the cheap. But despite being at a club that has almost become a byword for the self-inflicted, the unnecessary, and the almost ridiculous, Pardew's problems all seemed manageable.

At the weekend he was able to complete the long awaited transfer of Mathieu Debuchy, while on Monday it was confirmed that Yohan Cabaye and Steven Taylor had returned to full training. All of a sudden the next three games looked winnable. There was a spring in the step, a song in the heart and the light of some potential points at the end of what had been a very, very long tunnel. That was of course, until Thursday, when the unthinkable happened: Fabricio Coloccini decided he wanted to return to Argentina.

Perhaps it wasn't unthinkable, but it was certainly unforeseeable. The problems of squad depth and investment are long-standing, and the St James' Park hierarchy have already held their hands up to admit they didn't respond to the warnings in a timely fashion. But for your captain, a man now in the latter part of his career and sitting comfortably on a four-year contract, to simply want to go home, goes so far beyond the realms of preparation that the collective “what!?” from the North East might well be the first human sound received by aliens.

There had been rumblings that his former club were very keen to bring him back, but why wouldn't they be? If a journalist stuck a microphone in front of me and asked if I thought an Argentine international would do anything for my pub team, I'd probably at least nod. It doesn't mean that this time next week he'll be sat in the back of a transit van working out how to mark The Black Horse strikers out of the game.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Newcastle have had some appalling defenders over the years. From Marcelino to Jean-Alain Boumsong, via Titus Bramble, their list of former centre-backs is about as long and embarrassing as Elizabeth Taylor's list of husbands. But in Coloccini, Newcastle finally appeared to have an assured, composed, strong, smart and dependable foundation. Despite the most unpromising of starts to this chapter of his career (relegation), he re-emerged from the Championship and two seasons later was rightly included in the Premier League Team of the Year. He was important, loved by not only the fans, his boss, his teammates, but the local press as well, for whom he'd made himself more available than any captain in living memory. The fact, then, that this story was an exclusive for a national speaks volumes about its seriousness.

It seems crazy to think that anyone would want to give up their career, their popularity, their importance, and even their money in such a way. But footballers are still just human beings.

These “personal issues” of his, believe it or not, might actually be worth more than plaudits and applause, or trinkets and trophies, or even £80k a week. Regardless of what you think about the pay structure in football, what is happening here is simple: one man has thought long and hard about a situation and decided he should quit his job to try and fix it. It's really not that uncommon.

But that doesn't make it any less disastrous for Newcastle. To lose Demba Ba was one thing, but there are monks somewhere living a life of complete solitude who greeted that news with a roll of the eyes. The Coloccini situation is far more troublesome. One of the most technically astute defenders in the league, he embodies everything Pardew has tried to impose at the club. His departure wouldn't just rob his team of an on-the-field asset, it could destabilise everything.

If you find that hard to believe, keep in mind that Mike Ashley took a look at Kevin Nolan and decided that despite his influence in the dressing room and popularity in the stands, he wasn't worth the hassle of a contract renewal. Last season they looked at Coloccini, a player the same age, and decided that another four years as one of the club's biggest earners was a more than sound investment. But while it's that contract which will be the focus of all discussions, the issues at the heart of the story won't be solved by money.

Today, Coloccini will meet his manager with their side two points off the drop. If Alan Pardew stands any chance of keeping his captain, he has to convince him that the problems his exit would cause the club are as personal as whatever else is going on. Whether that's possible remains to be seen.