For Fabricio Coloccini, the move to English football in 2008 was anything but seamless. The accent in the north-eastern region initially proved a veritable challenge to his English comprehension, while on the pitch his first season saw Newcastle United relegated to the country’s second tier. Undeterred, the defender committed himself to the Magpies despite knowing that a season without top-flight football would jeopardise his chances of making the Argentina squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
It was a decision the 30-year-old has never regretted, and today he is again going toe-to-toe with the cream of English football in an impressive and much-strengthened Newcastle side that seems firmly on course for a return to European football next season. Now in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Argentinian speaks openly about his nomadic career, playing for Newcastle and the current state of football in his homeland.
“My first season here was a bit difficult as I knew very little about their football. However, bit by bit I picked up how things were done and started to become part of it,” said Coloccini of the move that took him from Spain’s Deportivo La Coruna. “On top of that I knew very little English, and then I had to understand the northern accent! But I’m used to it at this stage, so much so that when I go to London I find it easy to understand people. That said, I think I can now call myself a northerner!”
The central defender undoubtedly feels at home in Newcastle, where the fans - "truly impressive," according to Coloccini - have taken him to their heart, and he already wears the captain’s armband. “That’s a real honour and something I’m proud of," he said. "Having this privilege is a little complicated though, first because I’m a foreigner, and secondly because my English still isn’t perfect. That’s why I view it as a gift to be enjoyed to the full. I try to fulfil my captain’s duties as best I can to drive the team on.”
I felt responsible for the club being in the second division and wanted to help get them out of there.
Does he see the captain’s role as recompense for his services to the club and for sticking with them even after relegation? “I felt responsible for the club being in the second division and wanted to help get them out of there. It’s so nice when you can make amends for that kind of blemish on your CV,” he said, before adding: “I don’t regret staying [after the relegation] and risking the World Cup.”
Now, more than ever, Coloccini has reason to be thankful for that decision. Pre-season, the captain set a minimum target of 44 points to ensure top-flight status and allow the team to push on for a possible UEFA Europa League place. With one third of the campaign still to run, the Magpies are almost at that total already and currently lie just a point outside the final UEFA Champions League berth.
The Cordoba native has come of age in England playing a style of football he greatly enjoys, and he is well placed to compare its merits having competed in three other top leagues. “Each one has its different features and appeal. Italian football has a strong emphasis on organisation and tactical discipline, while in Spain it’s more about good football, always looking to move the ball well and keep it on the ground.
"In Argentina it’s a mix of both of these, as you work on tactics and try to play good football, but the pace is slower due to the slightly longer grass,” said the player who has represented Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruna among others.
“The English league is all about getting the ball forward and about speed. There is more attacking and less tactics. As a spectacle I enjoy it greatly as there are more goalscoring opportunities (than elsewhere),” he added.
One player alone cannot do the work of a whole team. Once the side hits its stride and triumphs, Messi will be the team’s biggest beneficiary.
His varied and meandering career has been an intense ride, due in no small part to its starting point, as the player explained: “I joined an AC Milan side featuring the likes of [Alessandro] Costacurta and [Paolo] Maldini, real top-class players. At barely 17, there was no way I could compete with them for starting berths. The club didn’t want to sell me outright so they decided to loan me out to gain experience. That’s how I ended up playing for Villarreal, Atletico… It allowed me to gain some really good experience and I don’t regret it for a second.”
As he grew in stature and self confidence, he also impressed with La Albiceleste, with who he won a FIFA U-20 World Cup title in 2001 and the Olympic Football Tournament at the Athens Games in 2004. “A lot of things happen and the national team tends to go in cycles," Coloccini said. "At the moment there has been a bit of a decline in Argentinian football, which in my view principally stems from the departure of Jose Pekerman as head of the youth teams. All the Argentinian players triumphing in Europe today were shaped by him. That’s the key. But we have to look to the future: [we have] a new coach, new expectations... We need to rediscover the glory days.”
On the subject of Lionel Messi, the player had this to say: “Without a doubt, Messi will triumph with the national side, but one player alone cannot do the work of a whole team. Once the side hits its stride and triumphs, Messi will be the team’s biggest beneficiary."
Now 30, the defender is not giving up on an international recall, although it is not something he is obsessing about. “Honestly, what I’m focusing on right now is my club, and being successful here. An international recall would be a bonus. If I’m selected again it will be because I’m doing a good job here. If not then I still have to keep doing what’s required of me at the club, which has put a lot of faith in me.”