FABRICIO COLOCCINI has rejected suggestions that Newcastle United’s players are lacking motivation and claimed there is a collective desire to ensure the club’s fine start to the season is not undermined by a tame end to the campaign.
Coloccini returned from a seven-week absence to play a crucial role in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa, a game that marked an end to a three-match losing run that had seen Newcastle concede ten goals without scoring.
Since the Argentinian suffered a knee injury in the New Year’s Day defeat at West Brom, Newcastle’s form has nose-dived, with the January departure of Yohan Cabaye contributing to a sense of growing unease and thwarted ambition.
With the Magpies safe from relegation, and unlikely to qualify for Europe even if both cup competitions are won by teams in the top five, is there anything to drive on the club’s players in the final two-and-a-half months of the season?
It didn’t look like it as they collapsed to a four-goal defeat against Spurs, but after Sunday’s hard-fought win over Villa proved that Newcastle’s battling instincts have not completely disappeared, Coloccini has challenged those who have been questioning his team-mates’ application.
“People might say there is not a lot to play for in the rest of the season, but that is not correct,” said the Magpies skipper. “It is never a problem to get motivated when you are playing for a club like this.
“All of us in the dressing room know about Newcastle’s history, and we know we are playing for one of the biggest clubs in the country. That is what we are fighting for when we go on the pitch.
“The biggest motivation is knowing that you are representing Newcastle and the Newcastle fans. When you think about the 52,000 fans who come here to support us, you know you have to go out and give your all.
“We know we have been in some bad times. It has not been easy for the fans or the whole of the city. The mood has been a little bit sad because of some bad results, so we knew the game against Aston Villa was going to be a massive one, and the three points are very important for us.
“It will give us a lot more confidence and improve everyone’s mood. It should also prove to the fans that we will always give our best.
“Whenever we are on the pitch, we fight as hard as we can to get the three points. Sometimes it is not always possible, but it is never for a lack of trying. We always try and that is one of the key messages that came out of this game.”
Another conclusion that can be drawn from Sunday’s success is that Newcastle are a much stronger force when Coloccini, Cheik Tiote and Loic Remy are playing.
All three returned from an absence of at least two matches at the weekend, with Tiote bolstering the heart of the Magpies midfield while Remy held his nerve to fire home the stoppage-time winner that broke a scoreless sequence that had extended beyond seven-and-a-half hours.
Coloccini’s presence was equally influential, with the South American slotting back alongside Mike Williamson to ensure that neither Christian Benteke nor Gabriel Agbonlahor were able to enjoy any time or space in the final third.
With Coloccini in the side, Newcastle look a much securer proposition than when either Steven Taylor or Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa are starting, and after the 32-year-old travelled to his native Argentina for the second season in succession to aid his rehabilitation from injury, his return could hardly have been timelier in light of United’s recent defensive disasters.
“It has been a tough few weeks,” he said. “It is very hard to watch from outside the pitch and see that the team is not having the best of times, but then not be able to do anything about it yourself.
“That is the worst thing for a footballer – not being able to get out there and make a difference. Now, I am better and getting fit. I can help now, and that is what I am determined to do. I am happy now because I feel like I can make a difference.
“The injury is healed. I am not 100 per cent yet because after more than a month out, it is always going to take a little bit of time to get your sharpness back. The first game can be difficult, but game by game, I know I will get better.”
Newcastle’s next game takes them to Hull City on Saturday, and with three of their next four matches featuring teams in the bottom half of the table, the hope is that Sunday’s victory will mark the start of a decent run.
“There had been a few games where we hadn’t been able to get the three points, so it was important to stop that,” said Coloccini. “Now, we have to start looking forward.
“There are still plenty of games to play, and as long as we show the same fighting spirit we did against Villa, we should do well in them.”
* Newcastle will take on Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup at St James’ Park on Tuesday, March 11 (7pm).