What is it with Newcastle United and central defenders? Error-prone centre-halves with the tendency to make costly mistakes at vital times have become common viewing on Tyneside in recent seasons. The names Titus Bramble, Claudio Cacapa and Jean-Alain Boumsong sends shivers down the backs of most Magpies fans and the club know central defence is a position they must get right if their return to the Premier League this season is going to be a successful one.
For a while it looked as though Argentina international Fabricio Coloccini’s name would be added to the unfortunate list of defenders who have failed to live up to expectation during their ill-fated spells at St James’ Park. A product of the famed Boca Juniors youth academy, the scraggly haired defender arrived at Newcastle in 2008 with a massive reputation following a hugely successful four year spell with Spanish side Deportivo La Coruña. After a promising start, the £10.3m defender’s performances, much like Newcastle’s, began to go rapidly downhill. A defensive horror show in a 5-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in December of that season was the sucker punch the Argentine failed to recover from as Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League.
The 28-year-old was expected to be one of the first major casualties in a Newcastle summer clear-out as the club came to terms with the reality of life in the Championship. The club were keen to save on the player’s reported enormous £70,000-a-week wages and were actively seeking a buyer. Newcastle’s inability to push through a cut-price exit highlighted just how badly Coloccini’s reputation had taken a battering following his dismal first season in English football.
It’s amazing what a year in the Championship can do to a player however and Coloccini came through a potentially testing time in English football’s second tier with flying colours. The centre-back, known more for his classy style of defending than his physicality, dealt admirably with the uncompromising style of play renowned in the Championship. His sterling performances at the back last season has seen him become a firm fans’ favourite in the North East, helping Newcastle lift the title with the meanest defence in the league. His performances also seen him named in the Championship Team of the Year and manager Chris Houghton has tipped his defender to shine on his return to the top flight.
“Colo had a very, very good season, along with the other players. It’s important he carries that form into the Premier League season,” Houghton told The Chronicle.
“He was a foreign player coming to England two years ago, and the settling-in period is never easy. But now it’s about him and the other players maintaining the form that they showed last season.”
The pressure will be on the Argentine to deliver in the Premier League this season, even more so following the news his regular defensive partner Steven Taylor will miss the opening three months of the season with a dislocated shoulder. Coloccini will be Houghton’s automatic first choice in central defence, most likely alongside new signing Sol Campbell, with Mike Williamson providing cover until Taylor returns from injury. The Argentine still has a lot to prove and the pace of the Premier League will again test Coloccini’s top flight credentials. Coloccini certainly has all the attributes to be a hit in the Premier League and the two years of experience in English football will be a major benefit to Newcastle as they look to consolidate their position in the top flight this season.
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