THE room falls silent when he says it. There is a black and white elephant in the room, and Shola Ameobi is not allowed to acknowledge it.
The Newcastle United striker has been asked whether the club’s current predicament is similar to the situation in 2009, when a calamitous campaign ended in a deserved demotion to the Championship.
It is a fair question which is justified by comparisons of the respective points tallies. United had 23 points after 22 games in their relegation season – they have 21 after 22 games this time around.
When it is put to him Ameobi – who played in both campaigns – challenges the idea the seasons are dove-tailing, pointing out to a disparity in character between the respective squads.
The striker says: “No, it is definitely not the same at all. Back then, there was a lot of discord.
“Last time, I remember thinking there were a lot of players who didn't really want to be here and that does not bode well for any team.”
On the back of that comment, interest increased. You can see collective eyebrows raising at the apparent inconsistency.
Ameobi carries on, but there is a point to come back to quickly.
He added: “The players we have here now have a better character and better temperament and hopefully that can really help us.
“In the last year or so, there have been a lot of games when we've been struggling but we've managed to pull out of the hat, which is really good from our point of view.
“It is important we have that sort of mentality in the second half of the season.”
It is worth pointing out that before the interview started, questions about Fabricio Coloccini were ruled out of bounds.
The reasons were understandable. Firstly, United want to prevent any embarrassment to the captain and club while they thrash out some sort of resolution to the unseemly saga which threatens to undermine Newcastle’s plans for the second half of the season.
Secondly, it is deemed unfair on Ameobi – an intelligent, thoughtful and engaging interviewee – to answer questions on such a contentious issue when so little information is out in the public.
The lack of meat on the bones of this saga has left supporters in the dark, but all parties seem to prefer it that way for now.
Still, there is a major inconsistency there.
We have insulated ourselves against comparisons between the class of 2009 and the current vintage with reassurances there is none of the dressing room discord which undermined efforts four years ago – yet Coloccini wants out.
Of course, Coloccini’s situation is different from the Michael Owen’s of this world, whose discontent was for professional reasons.
The skipper has a personal crisis to deal with, while Owen and company seemed to want to wash their hands of a situation which was of their own making. Still, it needs to be followed up.
So after a brief exchange with Newcastle’s press officer, a compromise is reached.
Without mentioning the captain explicitly – or divulging any further sensitive information that might affect negotiations – Ameobi is asked to expand on the point there is a better feel in the dressing room despite what appears evidence to the contrary.
He duly – and eloquently – expands.
“It is important the people who are here now want to play for the club and I know when they pull on that black and white shirt, they have that feeling we are all in this together and that wasn't the case before.
“There are no players in this current squad who are contrary to that.
“When we lose games, I can see everyone in this squad is hurting.
“You can see it in their faces. It's tough because when you have had decent performances we have been in the changing room for about half an hour after the game discussing it because we care. It means so much to the players.
“Four years ago, it wasn't like that. Many of them knew they would be leaving at the end of the season and I think that is the difference.
“That is certainly the feeling I got back then. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't as if they did not want to win and it's important to state that but afterwards they'd be smiling again within a few minutes.
“This season, you can see every player in the dressing room is prepared to knuckle down.
“They all want to really help this club although it is going to be very difficult to do what we did last season – but we are all still together and right behind the manager.”
That unity has survived in spite of a bad January, when negativity seems to have stalked the club.
The news about Coloccini’s discontent followed Demba Ba’s expected departure, and when it seemed salvation would arrive in the form of France striker Loic Remy it was dashed by QPR’s lucrative intervention.
Is there a worry the negative momentum could follow the team on to the pitch?
Ameobi added: “I think that is what we have been suffering from.
“When you have not won in a few games, it is tough to get yourselves going especially in games when you go a goal down. You start thinking ‘oh no, here we go again,’ which is the natural state of mind.
“However, it is also important to say we have been giving everything we have.”
Ameobi is likely to return to the starting XI today to play as a supplementary striker in an orthodox 4-4-2.
Brushing aside Coloccini, relegation and the rest of the club’s worries, he is approaching the Reading game in the right frame of mind.
He said: “The manager says it is important we have a positive changing room, the attitude in there is right.
“It is all too easy to feel sorry for yourself at times in this game but nothing comes from that.
“The players who are here can only get ourselves out of the situation we are in and unless you have a go and stay positive and try and achieve that you are not going to do anything.”
If the accusation leveled at Fernando Torres is that his goals don’t usually mean that much, Shola Ameobi is the opposite of a flat track bully.
His 14 goals over the last three seasons have tended to be worth their weight in gold – and the last time Newcastle lost a match Ameobi scored in was November 8, 2009. That is a run of 22 games he’s scored in that Newcastle haven’t lost in. Here’s his recent record:
QPR (won 1-0). Three points: Fantastic strike from the substitute earned United their last win.
Club Brugge (drew 2-2). One point: One half of the Ameobi brothers show in Bruges that helped United claw back from two down.
Bordeaux (won 3-0). Three points: Set the ball rolling in a group win in the Europa League. Their best performance of the season.
Sunderland (drew 1-1). One point: Ameobi loves playing against Sunderland, and scored in injury time to deny Martin O’Neill’s men.
Tottenham (drew 2-2). One point: Four minutes remaining in a crucial game at St James’ Park and Ameobi scores a wonderful equaliser.