Steve McClaren has never been afraid of dropping a big-name player.
Back in 2006, McClaren’s first act as England manager was to axe national hero, pin-up and all round good egg David Beckham from the Three Lions squad.
Beckham was England captain at the time, only 31 years old and with 94 caps to his name. It was a huge call for McClaren, a massive statement of intent and one which ultimately backfired; three months and three games later Mr Posh Spice was back in the squad after the team struggled under the new manager’s stewardship.
It could have been seen as a humiliating climbdown by McClaren, but the fact that he was big enough to admit to a mistake, having been brave enough to make the initial decision, revealed a lot about his character.
“It was always going to be difficult. It was always going to be a big decision but I felt it was one I had to make,” McClaren said at the time.
Well now, he has another one to make. Another captain, another leader, another big decision.
The decision to hand their skipper an improved contract could turn out to be their worst piece of business this summer.
Fabricio Coloccini’s golden balls may not have the same lustre as Beckham’s once did, but there’s no doubting his influence at Newcastle.
Skipper for the last five years since Alan Pardew appointed him as Kevin Nolan’s successor, he is a powerful figure at the club. He has the ear of Mike Ashley and has been considered by many within St James’s Park as a future Magpies manager.
Ashley and Lee Charnley responded to doubts over Coloccini’s future this summer by handing him an extra year on his contract. As statements go, it was eye-catching; given the club’s unwavering belief that they shouldn’t sign anyone over the age of 27, to give a 33-year-old a deal that will keep him at the club until he’s 35 told you all you need to know about how the defender is viewed at the club.
McClaren responded by confirming Coloccini would stay as his captain, having previously been reluctant to commit himself.
All good, then. The club’s skipper and most experienced defender staying put.
That’s where McClaren’s problems begin, however.
For despite his influence off the pitch, Coloccini’s influence on it is no longer what it should be.
It could be argued that his performances in a black and white shirt have never been consistently good enough. The Argentine’s first season on Tyneside saw him bullied, baffled and bemused by Premier League strikers as Newcastle slipped ignominiously to relegation.
Coloccini began restoring his reputation in the Championship but, to be honest, if a centre-half as limited as Steven Caldwell can look like Franco Baresi in that division, an Argentine international should walk through it blindfolded.
Since his return to the top flight, Coloccini has punctuated excellent performances with average ones as well.
One consistent season as Newcastle finished fifth in 2011 was aided by great protection from Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye in front of him. Since that high point, his displays have been on the wane.
Over the last three seasons, Newcastle have won 32 per cent of games that Coloccini has played in. When he misses out, the figure is only slightly worse.
Either way, they certainly aren’t the statistics that a club aiming for a top-eight finish, as McClaren has himself confirmed, should be happy with.
The fact is, none of Newcastle centre-halves are good enough nowadays to finish in the top eight, barring perhaps Chancel Mbemba. The jury is still out on the new boy.
But pair him alongside Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor or Coloccini and his adaption to English football will be a tough one.
Newcastle needed two new central defenders this summer. They might still bring one more in before the transfer window closes, but the decision to hand Coloccini a new contract, coupled with the return of Jamaal Lascelles from his loan at Nottingham Forest, means that is unlikely.
Ashley works on numbers. With Mbemba, Lascelles, Coloccini, Taylor and Williamson all in the squad, he will feel they have enough, even if the latter departs before the end of the month. Throw Paul Dummett into the mix and there’s certainly the bodies.
But there is a huge difference between quantity and quality.
McClaren is finding that out. He doesn’t trust Williamson, nor Lascelles, and is committed to Coloccini. Had he gone, it might have forced the board’s hand to find a replacement.
As it is, the decision to hand their skipper an improved contract could turn out to be their worst piece of business this summer.
McClaren has a tough decision to make. Coloccini’s lack of pre-season action has shown in the two games he’s played. On his last legs in the final 20 minutes against Southampton, the Magpies got away with it; not so at Swansea, where his positional play in stepping into the midfield allowed Bafetimbi Gomis the chance to score the opener while he was outjumped by 5ft 9in Andre Ayew for the second goal.
The only way Coloccini will get match fit is by playing – the trouble is, Newcastle risk shipping more goals while he does get up to speed.
Even at full fitness, Coloccini’s influence hasn’t been great. In his last 82 Premier League games, Newcastle have conceded 137 goals.
That’s not all down to him, of course. But it adds further fuel to the belief that the Magpies need their defence completely revamped.
Is a 80 per cent fit Coloccini still a better bet than an error-prone Taylor? Can McClaren get more out of a different partnership?
After all, Dick Advocaat has shown that dropping your centre-half and skipper isn’t always the right ploy.
Decisions decisions. It makes the Beckham call look a piece of cake!