Coloccini's conversion from laughing stock to local hero
Newcastle United have lost too many heroes to contemplate Fabricio Coloccini joining the exodus.
Kevin Keegan lasted less than a year as manager before he fell out with owner Mike Ashley, Alan Shearer lasted only eight games.
Andy Carroll, the Geordie heir to the club's No 9 dynasty, left for Liverpool, inspirational captain Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique, the hugely popular left-back, said goodbye in the summer. Even English football's anti-hero, Joey Barton, brought an end to his loyalty charade when he signed for QPR in August.
Every parting has been painful, every departure has sparked debate. Some accused the players of greed, most preferred to point the finger at the club's hierarchy for a lack of ambition.
Not everyone, though, wanted to abandon a ship that looked likely to sink under the weight of all the gloomy pre-season predictions.
Coloccini wanted to stay. And the defender, once described as the biggest folly of the Ashley regime, has enjoyed a remarkable season, playing a key part in Newcastle's unbeaten start to the campaign, including Sunday's 2-2 draw with Tottenham that keeps the Magpies fourth in the table.
Costing £10.6m from Deportivo La Coruna three years ago, the Argentina international looked about as suited to the Premier League as a Sunderland shirt on a Saturday night out in his new city.
Smaller than most centre-backs (he is only 6ft 1in), Coloccini was knocked off the ball too easily, unable to hold his own in the air and disrupted by four managerial changes in his first season. Most expected him to use Newcastle's relegation to the Championship in 2009 as an excuse to leave but there he found his feet -- and he has dazzled ever since.
There is even a song in his honour, which not only pays homage to his curly locks, but also offers the 29-year-old the opportunity to sleep with the wives of every single Newcastle supporter.
"I can't remember the game, but I remember Kevin Nolan came to me in the dressing-room afterwards," Coloccini said.
"He told me what they were singing about me, I couldn't believe it. It's so funny. It moves me. It makes me feel very special. Thankfully my wife thinks it's funny!
"When I hear it I want to turn and clap, to show them I love them. But I have to stay focused. My way to say thank you is to play well."
That is something he has done regularly and his polished performances persuaded Alan Pardew to make him captain, despite a less than fluent command of English.
"There were a lot of players I thought were ahead of me," Coloccini says.
"I'm foreign, I didn't think I would be given such an honour but I'm so proud. My dad could not believe it. I think he has told half of Argentina.
"To be an Argentinian, playing in the Premier League and to be captain of Newcastle United. It is unusual, no?"
There is more to his rehabilitation than performances on the pitch. With two young children, Octavia, eight, and Thiago, four, it is their happiness in England that has given him stability.
"It was a challenge for me to adapt but I never wanted to quit. That first year was difficult. I didn't speak the language, it was a new culture, new country, new style (of football) and I signed for a club with a lot of problems.
"Relegation was hard. I felt like a failure, I was ashamed, but I never thought it was a mistake to come to England. I wanted to prove myself to Newcastle, to English football.
"If I had left that summer I would have been a failure. It made me more determined."
It is determination that will be rewarded with a new contract, a four-year extension that could mean he ends his career on Tyneside. It is a decision that will go down well at home.
"I love Newcastle. I don't like the winters, they are hard, but I like the way of life. When I was young I loved the English language," he said.
"I went to an English school, but in the afternoon I played football so I missed my lessons.
"It was always in my mind that I would like my children to learn English and my little girl, she is fluent. She teaches me. My son, he has a small problem with language, but he is better than me. They make me a proud father. They have English friends, my daughter has a Newcastle accent. Sometimes I can't understand her. They went to Argentina for three months and they couldn't wait to come back to Newcastle. They missed their friends.
"There is a story I tell all the time in Argentina. My dog, Choco, ran away and I thought I would never see him again. The next day, a policeman came to our house.
"He said there was a fine, but my dog was back. Nobody ever believes me when I tell that story: in Argentina there are so many stray dogs, they are killed, disappear.
"In England the streets are clean and it is safe for my family. If they are happy I am happy."
For the man himself, meanwhile, there is no doubt about what will deliver the professional satisfaction he craves.
"I want to stay -- and I want to get Newcastle back into Europe." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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