Remembering Fabricio Coloccini, a lonely figure in his final 12 months at Newcastle

Fabricio Coloccini
Fabricio Coloccini

Something was up last summer.

In fact, something's been up with Fabricio Coloccini for a long time.

And his departure is not before time.

Coloccini – whose contract was today terminated by mutual consent – should have gone 12 months ago, when Steve McClaren couldn't get him to play a friendly and Crystal Palace, managed by Alan Pardew, showed an interest.

Yet he ended up signing a contract extension and keeping the captaincy.

At the time, handing Coloccini another year on his lucrative contract seemed a cheaper, simpler option given that an experienced and capable Premier League defender could cost upwards of £10million.

It proved to be a costly decision.

The first inkling that something was up last season came deep in the bowels of Miller Park, the home of Major League Baseball club Milwaukee Brewers, just over a year ago.

Newcastle had lost 2-1 to Mexican team Club Atlas at the cavernous ballpark and McClaren, appointed head coach a month earlier, was speaking to a small group of reporters outside the lockers rooms.

Coloccini had sat out the match.

McClaren was whether anyone else would be fit for the next leg of the club's USA tour in Sacramento.

"We're hoping Colo," said McClaren. “He’s got a little Achilles problem, and we didn’t want to take a risk."

It was a straightforward answer, but McClaren's telling wink suggested that Coloccini's situation was anything but straightforward.

Privately, McClaren was frustrated with Coloccini, a player he rated from what he was seeing on the training pitch.

The following month McClaren publicly reacted after Pardew denied making a move for Coloccini.

"There has been speculation," he said. "I know people deny it, but it is a fact. Don’t deny it – it is a fact."

That "little" problem would keep him out of the club's entire pre-season programme, though, strangely, he was able to take part in full training.

Coloccini, 33 at the time, was eventually coaxed back on to the field after signing a contract extension on the eve of the Premier League campaign.

The previous years had been punctuated by spells out with injuries.

Coloccini – whose children returned to Argentina several years ago – was allowed to return to his homeland for some of his rehabilitation, and this didn't sit well with supporters who had once loudly sung his name.

The Argentina international, signed for £10million from Deportivo La Coruna in 2008, was branded a flop after a difficult first season on Tyneside.

But he found his feet in the Championship, adapted to the Premier League the following season and led the club to a fifth-placed finish in his first year as captain, having succeeded Kevin Nolan as skipper in 2011.

Those were three memorable seasons on Tyneside, and Coloccini played his part in the club's success.

Coloccini, however, was a very different captain to Nolan, a vocal leader on and off the field.

At his best, he led by example. Coloccini was never a man of many words. He preferred to let his feet do the talking.

And he did. Coloccini is a cultured, composed and competitive player capable of bringing the ball out of defence. He reminded me of Jonathan Woodgate and Philippe Albert. He was that kind of player.

But Coloccini, hampered by a series of injuries, has been on the wane for some time now.

His playing decline has been steep, and there was an acknowledgement in his open letter to supporters that time is not on his side at the age of 34.

Supporters, understandably, have questioned his commitment over the past three years.

The last of his 275 appearances came in February's 5-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It is not a game he will want to recall.

With close friend Jonas Gutierrez having gone, Coloccini cut a lonely figure last season. It was odd, even sad, seeing him often leave St James's Park alone and in silence.

In his well-written and emotional letter to fans, he talked missing his children in Argentina and his keenness to play for San Lorenzo, his hometown club.

But, tellingly, he added: "I am not going only for that. The mental strain of being eight years at this club and everything we have experienced, without being able to win a title, has also taken its toll."

I like Coloccini, both as a footballer as a person.

But I think I know what he did last summer, and his departure was, sadly, overdue.