Fabricio Coloccini was late. Very late, in fact – almost three and a half hours after the time allotted for the Newcastle United captain’s pre-season address.
So late that anxiety started to bubble away that just like last year, Coloccini was not going to show. And when Newcastle skippers go missing – think Michael Owen in 2009 – it never augurs particularly well for the forthcoming campaign.
Last season, you could track the implosion of Newcastle’s season to the moment that Coloccini began to evade attention. It came in the wake of a masterful performance in the Wear-Tyne derby that earned him comparisons with Bobby Moore from his enraptured manager; praise that Coloccini accepted a few days later in a mixed zone that followed a midweek Europa League engagement with Bordeaux.
And then: nothing. A personal problem darkened his mood, distracted his focus and saw him disappear from view. Perhaps it is admirable that Coloccini couldn’t spout platitudes in public while talking behind closed doors about a possible return to San Lorenzo, a club where he has a deep bond in a country where he felt his family needed him.
He nearly left, the shockwaves destabilised Newcastle and they were nearly relegated. The successful return of Coloccini in the run-in merely emphasised the importance of their gifted skipper to Alan Pardew’s Magpies.
So it came as a blessed relief when - just shy of 3.30pm on Friday afternoon – the door to a cramped dressing room at Newcastle’s training ground creaked open.
Coloccini – full of apologies after being called through for an unexpected bit of light treatment – quickly made it obvious that he was not being press-ganged into this appointment. This is a player who is settled again: ambitious, dedicated and ready to repay loyalty that has touched him.
“As you know I had personal problems,” he says, answering the inevitable opener about what has changed since January.
“I spoke with my family and had to take a decision. I’ve worked all my life to have a dream – and my dream is to play at the top level of football. So I spoke with them, they could understood that and that’s why I’m here now.
“I made my decision in the middle of the holidays. I am here now and I am happy. My relationship with Newcastle was very important in making my decision. All the fans in the street, when they stopped me, they asked me to stay and those things sometimes make the difference.
“Someone said, ‘Colo, if you have to leave, thank you for everything, it doesn’t matter.’ Other fans come and say, ‘Please don’t go’.
“It was really nice that some of them come to me and say, ‘Listen Colo, if you have to go, good luck with your life and thank you for everything.’ It was really nice. I think they have been supportive because they know that I have always given 100%.
“Sometimes you can do well, sometimes you can have bad games, bad times, but the intensity and what I give on the pitch is why I think they like me.”
Admitting that it was a “difficult” decision that required careful negotiation with his family, Coloccini is now speaking of seeing out the remainder of his contract with Newcastle.
“You never know. Of course I have a contract for a long time, so hopefully I can see out my contract here,” he said.
“Newcastle is a special club for me, of course. I’ve spent five years here. I’ve supported San Lorenzo since I was small. But I feel something for Newcastle now. I’ve been here five years and the fans are amazing.”
Coloccini is neither a tub-thumping captain in the Kevin Nolan mould nor a particularly vocal member of the dressing room, but he carries an understated and impressive authority.
Two years ago, he asked for assurances about the direction of the club before committing to a long-term contract and Newcastle’s sudden burst back towards the top five was a motivation for him to pen that deal.
The boardroom bent their rule on older players to offer him a long contract and that heeded his call for his investment. What his thoughts are on Newcastle’s summer appointment of Joe Kinnear is unclear - it remains off-the-agenda for the players - but there is an acknowledgement from him that new additions are needed.
“It’s difficult to say (what we will do). We have a great squad and we have good players,” he says.
“Of course, if you say we can sign some players that will be good as they can help us. The best thing in pre-season is to get the players now, because you can do a full pre-season and you can get to know them. Sometimes in January it is too late.”
While Kinnear struggles to bring in players, Pardew has attempted to improve the fitness of his squad and believes he has addressed some of the tactical oversights that undermined Newcastle last year. Time will tell.
“We have to do the right things because last year was very bad for us. We have to improve a lot,” Coloccini admits.
At Manchester City tonight, many would argue that Newcastle need divine intervention to reverse their miserable record in Manchester.
After a midweek meeting with Pope Francis - a guest in the Argentinian international camp - maybe Newcastle will be blessed in their opening fixture.
“I knew Pope Francis was a San Lorenzo fan. He has a season ticket and everything,” he said.
“You could tell he still really loves San Lorenzo when he spoke with us (the Argentina squad) last week. I shook hands with him. He is always speaking about San Lorenzo, and so for me as a fan, it was amazing. There were about 200 people there so we just said ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you for everything’.”