FOOTBALL is overflowing with stories – some bad, some sad, some good – but none endure or capture the collective imagination quite like a tale of triumph over adversity.
Fabricio Coloccini had already risen from rags to riches a long time before he landed on Tyneside, and a player who reputedly earns as much as £86,000-a-week at Newcastle United has taken plenty out of the club coffers for his troubles.
At the moment, though, he looks worth every single penny.
His story at Newcastle is a fascinating journey which encapsulates elements of so many of our classic yarns, from the rise of the underdog, to the acceptance of the outsider, to the transformation of a misfit into a hero.
He was the showbiz signing who became a joke, a symbol of Newcastle’s folly in the transfer market under Mike Ashley and Dennis Wise. A £10.6m waste of money who was turned into the fall guy in an expensive United defence which tumbled out of the Premier League in 2009.
But Coloccini did not run. Two years on, the Argentinian is a Tyneside legend in the making, a cult hero who can bring 50,000 people to their feet to sing a song in his honour, a player who can even rival Andy Carroll, a local hero in the number nine shirt, in the popularity stakes.
Where there were once only sniggers and jibes there are now cheers and admiration. Where there was once a desperation to sell there is now only a worry about what happens if he gets injured. The scapegoat has become the lion king.
Coloccini was magnificent against Tottenham Hotspur, but it says more about the improvements he has made at St James’ Park that nobody is surprised when that superlative is used.
For a quiet man with only a limited command of the English language, Coloccini has turned into the lynchpin in the middle of the back four, an organiser and a talker, a role model and a leader.
There is a chink in his armour in that he remains vulnerable in the air and can be battered by physical centre-forwards, but all the best heroes have their weaknesses. It is their vulnerability and their failings which make them like the rest of us – human.
As long as Coloccini is paired with a more imposing partner at centre-back, someone who can win his fair share of the aerial duels, there are not many better than the former Deportivo La Coruna man on the ground, and his reading of the game is outstanding. On current form he is the best Newcastle centre-half since Jonathan Woodgate glided over the St James’ Park grass. Some even compared him to Bob Moncur over the weekend.
Perhaps it is the fact Coloccini looks like a comic book character from a children’s cartoon with his bright red curly hair bouncing behind him when he runs, but he was more Roy Race than Iggle Piggle against Spurs.
His second-half strike will be on United’s shortlist for goal of the season, chesting down Danny Guthrie’s crossfield pass to leave Alan Hutton standing before drilling a swerving right-footed shot past Carlo Cudicini. It almost brought the roof off.
That Tottenham somehow managed to force an equaliser in injury time, when Aaron Lennon was stupidly shown on to his favoured right-foot to score by full-back Danny Simpson, took the shine off a little, but it was still the perfect way for him to celebrate his 29th birthday and 100th appearance for the club.
It was the second time in as many games United had conceded an injury-time equaliser, although four dropped points should not detract from the fact Newcastle have had the better of two games against sides entrenched in the top six in the table.
The very fact they were seventh at the end of this fascinating tussle should say more about how well they are doing this season than how disappointing it has been to draw games they could have won.
Newcastle should have beaten Sunderland the previous weekend, but Spurs probably did just about enough to say they deserved a draw on Saturday.
Steve Harper made three excellent saves, including a vital one to keep out Jermaine Defoe just before half-time, while Luka Modric rattled the crossbar in the second half as they poured forward in search of an equaliser.
Newcastle must learn to kill games off and they had decent chances to grab a second goal after Leon Best had also hit the woodwork in the first half when he got on the end of Jose Enrique’s cross.
Substitute Peter Lovenkrands fired against the legs of Cudicini soon after coming on when he was played in by Joey Barton, Nile Ranger’s quick feet almost gave the exciting youngster his first Premier League goal when he dribbled past Michael Dawson and rolled the ball wide from a tight angle and Barton’s exhausted pass to the same player late on saw a four on two attack go to waste.
So there was disappointment, but it must be put into perspective. Tottenham have reached the knockout stage of the Champions League this season.
On Saturday, Newcastle, who were in the Championship when Spurs qualified for that tournament, stretched them to the limit. It represents considerable progress.