NOBODY in the Newcastle United squad represents the club’s successful marriage of silk and steel better than skipper Fabricio Coloccini.
That combination of craft and graft has taken Newcastle to the brink of the Champions League, and earned Alan Pardew a clear run at the Manager of the Year award. It was also the key factor in securing Coloccini a place in the PFA’s team of the year.
For while Coloccini’s timing and technique lifts him a cut above the average Premier League centre-back, there is a strength of character to Coloccini that has seen him rise to every challenge thrown at him on Tyneside.
Make no mistake, there is an edge to this street kid from Cordoba. Although not a rabble rouser in the mould of his predecessor Kevin Nolan, the 29-year-old is not a man you would want to cross.
It is understood, for example, that Coloccini was key in the efforts to broker an uneasy peace between Joey Barton and the club’s hierarchy before the season began. In his first major test as skipper, he spoke for the squad when he stood up to the spiky midfielder over his de-stabilising use of Twitter to voice his disillusion with United’s key power brokers.
It was that sort of thing that persuaded Pardew – who hailed Coloccini as a “fantastic character” – to give him the nod way above the other candidates.
It now looks like an inspired promotion for Coloccini, who signed a contract that effectively means he will bring the curtain down on his playing days on Tyneside.
He has maintained a pleasing level of consistency while also being the standard bearer for a slicker Newcastle style that is infinitely more pleasing on the eye than last year’s more functional football.
But the journey may not be over. United have one game left to sneak into the top four but are reliant on results to go for them elsewhere in the country.
Tottenham host Fulham while Arsenal have a difficult-looking trip to the Hawthorns, where West Brom seem intent on giving the popular Roy Hodgson a stirring send off before he takes over at Wembley. Coloccini insists that Newcastle will battle to the end.
“We are fighting for a dream so it is a very important game,” he said.
“We are confident. Of course we are confident because we played well against Chelsea, we’ve played well against Manchester City too. We lost but the final result came because they scored the first goal and we were chasing an equaliser, which is why they scored the second goal.
“We have a very tough game on Saturday but it is one we can win. We have to do our own work at Everton and take the three points first. If we do that, it puts the pressure on Tottenham and Arsenal and we’ll see – but we have to do our own job first.”
It promises to be a nerve-shredding afternoon, with fans glued to smartphones – the 21st century equivalent of the transistor radio – for news from elsewhere.
Coloccini feels that it is “inevitable” the players will hear the scores from North London and the West Midlands, but will take on the responsibility of ensuring they remain focussed on the task in hand.
“When you’re on the pitch, you do not take notice of these things,” he says.
“At half-time, we may hear of the scores and I’m sure people may shout the score to us but unless we win, we will not get there. So the job of winning is the most important to us.
“We will make sure of that first.” A workaholic who is usually the last off the training ground, Coloccini has proved a perfect role model for the rest of the squad.
As a player who found things tricky when he first arrived, the defender has also been well-placed to offer advice and encouragement to the crop of overseas newcomers at the club. But he insists the quality in the squad has made his job straightforward.
“I am proud to be captain of this Newcastle team,” he said.
“When you are captain of this club you know the tradition and it is a very, very big job. But being captain of this group of players, things have been easy since the start of the season. They make it easy because they are such good players, and it leaves it for me to play. Of course, when I was appointed I maybe had to lift a few people. I think the most important thing was for us to have high standards every day.
“We need to train at high levels. If you train at high levels, you play at high levels and it was very important that we were all working towards the same goal.
“We all had to be working hard for the same goal.”
His verdict on the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive. But – as you’d expect from a man with hidden depths – there is a determination not to let the biggest prize slip away from them.
“It has been a fantastic season, a great season,” he said. “We have done a great job, and I include everyone in that. The players, the staff and everyone who works at the training ground have done their bit for us.
“We’re very happy but we still have the chance to finish third or fourth and we’re still fighting for that.”