NEWCASTLE United captain Fabricio Coloccini could be out until May.
The defender is sidelined with a back problem suffered against Southampton last month.
Coloccini has flown back to his native Argentina to be with his family – but the defender’s expected to return to Tyneside next week.
United manager Alan Pardew – whose side face Anzhi Makhachkala in Moscow tonight – has allowed him to fly back to South America on compassionate leave to be with his wife and children while he recuperates.
Coloccini asked to leave the club in January because of what were described at the time as “personal matters”. The 31-year-old agreed to stay until at least the end of the season – and Pardew felt it was right that Coloccini was allowed to see his family in the circumstances.
Pardew’s hopeful he could be back in three weeks – but he’s prepared for the worst.
“Colo has gone back to Argentina,” Pardew told the Gazette. “There’s no treatment he can have – he’s broke two of the bones in his back.
“We think it’s going to be anything between three and seven weeks. He’s gone back for a week.”
Coloccini’s absence means a long run in the team for January signing Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, signed from Montpellier.
Meanwhile, striker Papiss Demba Cisse didn’t travel to Russia with his team-mates after being laid low with a virus, and that forced Pardew to bring Shola Ameobi, who he is reluctant to use on the Luzhniki Stadium’s artificial surface.
“It is a blow – I thought he’d be ideal for this surface,” said Pardew.
“It’s something we’ll have to overcome. It’s a virus, but the doc doesn’t think it’s going to kick in for too long.
“But we obviously need him to train on Friday to get some air in his lungs.
“It’ll probably eliminate Shola from Sunday (against Stoke City), if he plays. That wasn’t ideal. So it’s kind of worked out in a reverse way.
“Nevertheless we’ve got great players in this team.”