When Alan Pardew was sent ducking for shelter in the final home match of a wretched second half of Newcastle United’s cursed campaign, the loss of his mandate to lead the Magpies was complete.
The tide had turned. He was no longer guilty by association at St James’ Park, he was just guilty – and it is from that subterranean low that he will try to make up for lost ground next season.
But if opinion polls hardly favour Pardew ahead of the new season, what of his lieutenant? Does Fabricio Coloccini have question marks to wipe out as we approach a fresh campaign?
It is almost two years since Coloccini was compared rather giddily by Pardew to Bobby Moore after the most effortless derby day defensive performance that you are likely to see.
United did not beat Sunderland that day – Martin O’Neill’s red and white class of 2012 grabbed a late draw against ten men – but Newcastle’s skipper rose serenely above the usual frantic ebb and flow of a Tyne-Wear derby.
He has delivered a few of those effortless sort of displays in the last 12 months but collapses in form in successive seasons have called into question his right to lead.
Newcastle were too frequently a rabble in those final weeks of the campaign for his leadership qualities to come under the microscope.
Like Alastair Cook and his troubled captaincy of the England cricket team, can you separate the man and his values from the way the team responds?
Evidently, the top brass at Newcastle do not think so. When Mike Ashley took a keen interest in black and white affairs in the spring, it was not just Alan Pardew who was receiving reassurances about United’s upward mobility in the coming campaign.
Coloccini, the club’s most influential player, was also taken to dinner by a genial Ashley.
The message given to him to relay to the players was that Newcastle intended to reinforce in the close season. It was a show of unity when all around seemed to be disintegrating.
The centre-back is not your typical pick for Newcastle United captain. The most successful of those skippers in recent times have often been men who have led by inspirational example – look at Alan Shearer, for example – or who seemed to have leadership interwoven in their DNA, like Kevin Nolan.
Eventually Nolan became too powerful for his own good, it seems. A powerful player’s committee had been assembled to lead Newcastle out of the wilderness in 2009, which they did – but at a cost.
One-by-one the likes of Alan Smith and Nolan were picked off and sold. In Ashley’s world – where he does not want to be challenged publicly – Nolan’s presence jarred.
Coloccini was a different sort of character but he could be no less difficult. A long, protracted wrangle over a contract extension was held up for a long time because he wanted to hear what Newcastle’s ambitions were.
This correspondent was chided through the press office for running an interview with vaguely positive quotes about his intention to stay because the headline made it sound too clear-cut that he would not jump ship.
Whether Coloccini’s stock has ever recovered from the sudden and still partially unexplained desire to return to Argentina is another point.
Pardew will back him to the hilt – describing him as a proper character and his best player – but that rocked an already listing ship. His unhappiness was barely hidden at times. Since then, injuries have seen him sit it out for two long spells.
Those who have seen him in action speak of an assertiveness that does not always come across on the pitch. He was the one who upbraided Joey Barton when it was felt that his influence had become disruptive. He was similarly forthright when he felt Hatem Ben Arfa crossed the line last season. But he also stuck up for Yohan Cabaye.
Largely, Coloccini’s role has been unquestioned for so long because the list of credible alternatives is short.
Cheick Tiote’s longevity and will-to-win makes him a possibility but he can be a law unto himself when he crosses the white line. His is not a flawless claim.
Who else? Steven Taylor’s name has long been supplied as a captain-in-waiting but he has enough of a job to work his way back into the side this season.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa once captained Montpellier in the Champions League but Pardew does not seem to want to know. Can we really include Vurnon Anita on the shortlist?
The capture of Siem de Jong has changed that. Those who speak about him in Holland regard him as a natural leader of men.
The armband sat easily on his bicep at a club with the stature of Ajax and he has been signed to beef up the footballing IQ of a team that, on occasion last season, looked pretty witless.
De Jong is no Trojan horse signing. He hasn’t been brought in to steal Coloccini’s thunder, but there is a genuine rival for the captaincy now. He is de facto vice captain and if the Argentinian trips up, suffers another unfortunate injury or sees his form disintegrate again, there is a ready-made replacement.
For the first time in two years, the pressure is on Pardew’s lieutenant. He needs to respond.