Have we seen the last curly hair wig at St James Park? At the time of writing, Colo is still a Newcastle player but will he be lining up for our first game of the season on 6th August? At 34 and in the final year of his contract, I have a feeling he has pulled on the famous black and white jersey for the last time. If Colo has played his last game, how will his time on Tyneside be remembered?
The tale started 8 years ago when we acquired his services for £10 million from Deportivo La Coruna. After some encouraging early performances (with the odd mistake), Colo made a decent impression early on with a noticeable talent of reading the game and being technically good with the ball at his feet, which is rare for a defender in the English game. Despite this early form, his first season ended in with relegation. Many would not have been surprised to see him pack his bags and head for the exit door, but he stayed and breezed through the Championship, picking up a winners medal in the process (not many current Newcastle players can say that) and being named in the Championship team of the season.
Following our promotion and a steady first season back in the Premiership, Colo will no doubt be remembered fondly for his performances in the 11/12 season when he was again named in the team of the season and led us to a 5th placed finish. Praise rained in from the pundits with some people even comparing him to Bobby Moore (Stick to dancing, Pards). While that comment was farfetched (no change from Pards) there was no doubting that Colo, on his day, could standup to players like Suarez and Drogba etc. as even with a lack of pace and physical presence, his reading of the game made up for this. Given our recent void in the defensive department (Bassong, Rozenhnal and Boumsong to name but a few) it seemed that Colo was able to offer the type of defensive stability we had been crying out for since we sold Woodgate to Madrid. As a result he quickly became a fans favourite, with many fans even offering their wives to him.
Following Nolan’s departure before the 11/12 season commenced, Colo was given the captains armband and as described above this initially ended in success for everyone concerned. Happy days (or so we thought). Captains however, are judged when the team is under pressure. This is when team mates are looking for an inspirational leader to guide them through difficult periods in matches and seasons. Over the next few seasons the club’s fortunes dipped and Colo was usually found wanting as Club Captain.
For me, the turning point in his Newcastle career came in January 2013 when Colo handed in a transfer request and expressed his desire to return to Argentina to play for his home town team San Lorenzo, just as the club became embroiled in the first of its recent relegation battles. The move never materialised as San Lorenzo could not meet his wage demands (I thought it was his desire to play football for his local club again rather than money). Over the next 6 months with some fleeting appearances thrown in (what do footballers get paid for again?), he soon found the ‘desire’ to play for us again (we offered him more money and the guarantee to be the highest earner at the club)… Oh yes and he remained captain – what could go wrong!
Usual characteristics associated with captains are ‘desire/passion to lead, professionalism and organiser’, to name but a few. Obviously not everyone is blessed with having all these attributes but in Colo’s case there was a definite lack of even the basics to fulfil such a pivotal role in any sport.
Now let’s take a look at words associated with Colo’s captaincy ‘coward, weak, no passion and bottler’ (doesn’t invoke inspiration now does it?). When did you last see Colo organise the defence, rally the troops, shout (within reason) to others to buck their ideas up or even speak to the media? No, I’m still scratching my head, although there have been several written apologies to the media, especially in the last couple of years. They didn’t have much impact, did they?
Apart from the odd pat on the back to a team mate, Colo appeared more than happy to play 90 minutes and then leave the pitch pronto (you wonder if this mentality was passed onto other players?). If you look at our recent derby record, in the last 10 derbies, Colo’s record reads: MISSED 6, Played 4, W1, D1, L2 (with one red card and two yellow cards in the games he managed to play). Is this a record you want from your club captain?
To place the blame for all Newcastle’s recent failings at Colo’s door would be unfair and there are plenty of others who have a lot to answer for but when the team needed its captain the most he was usually invisible on the pitch, or simply just missing. The end of last season, where Colo played no part in the relegation run, following an injury sustained warming down in a friendly game he played no part in, is a prime example.
If Colo had left back in January 2013 he would likely have been remembered slightly differently; although he would have left us in the lurch, his performances had already started to dip significantly. At this point both parties could have parted on good terms however this never transpired.
The question now, is what happens next?
Solely on the basis of his performances in the last campaign, Colo should be nowhere near our starting 11, never mind captain. Palace and Chelsea away are glaring examples as to why. Given the emergence of Lascelles, he and Mbemba (if he stays) should be our first choice centre back pairing next season. A full season in the Championship together under Rafa’s guidance should stand them in good stead for future challenges. Topped with having a proper football manager at the helm in Rafa, I’d suggest if any if any club made an approach for Colo, we would gently usher him towards the exit.
One final question remains. Namely who picks up the captain armband? Sissoko and Shelvey both had the honour in the run in last season and although there were glimpses of leadership, both still seem to lack certain essential skills for such a role.
My personal preference would be Lascelles. He is someone who can form part of the spine of the team, and although he may be young and still learning, he has already displayed organisational skills and passion in abundance. He cries out captain material, so why not hand him the armband? Saying that I’m sure whoever Rafa chooses will be the right choice!
At this point this particular tale must come to an end. We all have memories (good and bad) of Colo’s time in the North East. I decided that the only fitting tribute I could leave would be in ‘Invisible Ink’ below.