Dennis Wise and Tony Jimenez were maligned for their efforts in the summer transfer window, but there were a few successes. Mark Douglas talks to one of them, Fabricio Coloccini, about life in Newcastle
FABRICIO Coloccini emerges from a side room at Newcastle United’s Darsley Park training ground clutching an English text book, full of apologies for the language class that overran. “I have just been having an English lesson, I have been taking them for a few weeks,” he explains with a smile on his face.
“Today I was studying verbs – to read, to speak, to play. It is hard work but good – I do an hour a day. I have to ask Jonas (Gutierrez) or Nacho Gonzalez sometimes to help me when the manager uses swear words because I don’t understand and the manager speaks quickly. But I hope to get better fast.”
So far, so good on that front for the Argentina defender, signed from Deportivo La Coruna over the summer after a glowing recommendation from United’s former head of recruitment Tony Jimenez.
Friend and compatriot Gutierrez is by his side to nominally play interpreter.
But for the most part, Coloccini delivers his first interview solely in English with impressive aplomb.
Considering that when he rolled up in Tyneside three months ago he could barely speak a word, that is a stark improvement.
Coloccini’s increasing authority with the English language represents a neat summary of a career in black and white that has been on a steep upward curve since a stuttering start. He has re-tuned instincts honed in La Liga to cope with the pace and physicality of English football.
Coloccini’s bravery and aerial ability were beyond reproach from the moment he made his debut at Old Trafford, but at times he found himself wrong-footed or caught out of position by a quick winger or a bustling striker prepared to run directly at him.
It was reservations over that part of his game that dissuaded Premier League managers from signing him before Newcastle paid the best part of £10m for a player that Kevin Keegan described as “world class” soon after seeing him.
Given that, in the absence of the lion-hearted Steven Taylor, it fell to Coloccini to lead the stout, heroic resistance that earned his team their precious point at Stamford Bridge last week, perhaps those doubts are beginning to recede. He is increasingly confident in his new surroundings.
“I like English football very much, it’s very strong and fun, very entertaining. Ambitions for Newcastle this season? I think the first thing is to stay in this league because Newcastle is a big club,” he said.
It can not be unrelated that Coloccini, like fellow international Gutierrez, has wholeheartedly embraced Tyneside, laying down roots in Jesmond and moving his wife and two young children to the North East within a few weeks of his multi-million-pound move. While other Premier League imports see a move to England as a potentially lucrative line on their CV, Colocinni appears to be in Tyneside to stay.
He’s certainly been won over by the charms of his adopted city.
Barring the blast of arctic weather – presumably not particularly welcome to someone who has spent the past three years in the Mediterranean – he has only praise for life in the North East.
“I like this city – I have been around and been to places to visit. I visited the beach and the Blue Reef aquarium at Tynemouth with my wife and children. And I went with my family to the castle in the Harry Potter film (Alnwick Castle) which my children enjoyed.
“We watched the Harry Potter films when we were living in Spain, the films were in Spanish. My daughter is just five and son is two. My daughter goes to school in Newcastle and she is learning English.
“When he grows older my son will speak more English than Spanish. He will speak it with a Geordie accent, I think. Maybe he will say ‘Whey aye man’ like our fans do.”
Coloccini’s integration has been aided by former Argentina Under-20s team-mate Julio Arca, a potential opponent this afternoon when Newcastle make the short trip to Middlesbrough. The pair have spoken in the run-up to the game, and have agreed to switch shirts whatever the result. “I know Julio very well, he is my friend. We played together for Argentina Under-20s and for Argentinos Juniors,” Colocinni says.
“When I first arrived at Newcastle he showed me the city, places to eat and helped me when I was buying a car. He was a good guide and showed me where the best Italian restaurants were in Newcastle.
“He was in the year ahead of me at Argentinos but I played with him and saw him all of the time. Julio is a very good player. He’s played in England for eight years at Sunderland and now Middlesbrough – to be here for eight years shows he must be a good player.
“I am surprised that Julio has not played for Argentina but it’s very difficult for him because our national team is full of top-level players.
“Maybe now Maradona is in charge he has a chance – new manager, new players so everyone has a chance. I spoke to Julio yesterday and we agreed to swap shirts after the game. Maybe we’ll go for a meal – depends on the score!”
Had things been different, Colocinni could have been donning the red and white of Middlesbrough rather than United’s black and white. Before he left Milan, his first port of call in a European club career that has spanned nine years, Middlesbrough made contact with his agent with a view to a £2m move but Colocinni opted for Depor instead.
It may have cost a considerable amount more to lure him to St James’s Park, but with Newcastle in their best defensive form for years, Boro’s loss is United’s gain.