A STORM is gathering over St James’ Park, and not just to empty an arctic blast over the famous old stadium.
Newcastle United host Reading tomorrow with the mercury set to plunge below zero on Tyneside – and victory their only chance of thawing out the darkest concerns of their loyal supporters.
Chief among their concerns is a lack of form which is drawing the Magpies ever closer to the relegation zone, but the Royals visit will be played out against a backdrop of another week without much-needed senior recruits and continuing uncertainty over the fate of their skipper.
Fabricio Coloccini’s desire to leave Newcastle, we are told, remains. There is a family situation that needs to be resolved and the player believes this can only be achieved if he is back in South America – or at least a great deal closer to home than the wintry North East.
United say they will not free him from his lucrative contract and the noises emanating from the club are that they will look for an agreement that allows for a re-assessment in the summer. But in reality, no one in the North East is close enough to Coloccini to really paint a full picture of the turmoil that he is currently going through.
We know there is a personal crisis: decorum and respect dictates that we don’t delve much deeper than that. But it is this issue that is at the centre of everything, if it is irretrievable then United supporters might reluctantly accept that he has to move on.
Only a handful really know what has happened, and manager Alan Pardew is one of them. The United boss would not want to denigrate what is going on in Coloccini’s personal life, but said that he expects his skipper to continue finding “sanctuary” on the field.
After the way that he played against Norwich – arguably Newcastle’s best performer in a display that was as resolute as any this season – it is easy to see Pardew’s point. Coloccini’s mind appeared to be wandering earlier in the season, with his unspoken concerns encroaching on his displays.
At Carrow Road, there appeared to be release in the fact it was out in the open. Pardew is adamant that he will continue to captain the club with distinction ahead of a meeting on his future next week.
He said: “I can give you an example of a player I had at West Ham who had big gambling problems and another who had gambling and drink problems. Both those players found sanctuary on the football pitch. It was the only sanctuary they had. It was the only time they had that and they played well. Players play through unbelievable situations. I can think of a player at Southampton who got a man-of-the-match award whose cousin had died two days previously in a stabbing incident.
“Everyone who kicks a football, once you play football, or sport, or tennis, everything is forgotten.”
It helps that the supporters have been understanding. The Coloccini revelation could have turned public opinion against the defender, but it is a measure of the respect and admiration they have for him that he was lauded by the supporters.
It is what made talk in an Argentinian tabloid this week of supporters turning on their skipper (pictured left) so scandalous. Indeed, nothing about the conduct of San Lorenzo, the club that want Newcastle to cancel Coloccini’s contract to allow them to sign him, has been particularly respectful so far.
“I don’t think that will impact on Colo,” Pardew said. “I think there’s a determination to play well and he did that at Norwich and I hope he does that on Saturday and I know our fans, and I went to a coaching course this week, and sometimes it is good to go to those things because you remember what you actually have got, the fantastic job I’ve got here and the fantastic fans. I think they will show that to Colo on Saturday. They understand.”
The question the supporters want to know is whether he will stay. Pardew is upbeat.
“We’re going to sit down next week and hopefully iron out the issues and come to a conclusion where Colo stays,” he said. “That’s what I hope for as manager.” On the week’s other setback, Pardew was sanguine. Missing out on the signing of Loïc Rémy was a blow, but the Newcastle boss said his club would not offer “silly money”, by implication an assertion that QPR were spending a lot to recruit the France striker.
“It was a little strange. We put a lot of work into it. We made his club Marseille an offer that was accepted and made a fantastic offer to the player,” he said.
“He didn’t arrive. This club is on a financial footing that is strong, but we’re not going to pay silly money to anybody. We will offer money in the correct way.”
He also offered a defence of United’s approach and a deal that seemed to be played out in public. He said: “There’s no chance of keeping a secret, trust me. The way transfers are geared is that you’re not allowed to approach players, you have to go through an agent. Then it’s never secret.
“I actually read that they’re trying to put a process together where clubs can have an internet system where it’s secure. You can put players who are available on there and talk to clubs directly. I think that’s a good idea, it would be nice to see that implemented. Even in the summer I can’t remember too many transfers that don’t get bashed around every other club when you get near the end.
“Trust me, these agents – some of them – don’t really care too much about distributing that information. They’re always looking for the best deal.”