After signing for £10.3 million in August 2008 from Deportivo La Coruña, Fabricio Coloccini had an indifferent first season for Newcastle United. He lacked the strength and pace to compete against the best strikers and soon there were doubts over his price tag and whether he was cut out for the Premier League.
Albeit at a lower level, Coloccini looked more established as a central defender in the Championship and his controlled performances in defence was one of the reasons for our promotion. Along with fellow defender, Jose Enrique, both defenders were named in the team of the season.
His performances in the Championship season and last season in the Premier League has seen him establish himself as one of the fans’ favourites, with many fans donning blonde curly wigs in celebration of his cult status. Alan Pardew also announced that Coloccini would be Newcastle’s captain for the forthcoming season, in recognition of his performances in the last couple of seasons.
I thought it would be interesting to see how he measures up against the best of the Premier League’s central defenders.
There are still doubts over his presence in the air and the above statistics confirm that his aerial ability is not the strongest. In comparison to the other four central defenders, Colocinni is the shortest by a couple of inches and this could be one of the reasons why he has the lowest success percentage in aerial duels (33%). Out of the defenders who have played regularly this season (Terry, Vidic, Kompany) – he has the lowest number of effective head clearances and attempts the lowest number of aerial duels as well. Perhaps this is a tactical ploy, with his central partner, Williamson or Taylor employed by the manager to be the defender that challenges for 50-50 balls in the air.
On ground duels, his stats are not favourable either. Coloccini has the lowest success rate in 50-50 balls on the ground (55%) and also the highest number of times where a player has dribbled past him, which highlights that he might still lack the pace and strength to become one of the best defenders in the Premier League.
However, spending eight years in the Argentinean, Italian and Spanish leagues – where the game is slower and less football is played in the air – will have contributed to his style of defending.
One of Coloccini’s main strengths is his ability to read the game, where last season, he made more interceptions than any of the other three regular defenders – twice as many as John Terry – and on average made more interceptions per game against all defenders including Rio Ferdinand, who is considered one of the best in this area.
He has one of the lowest clearance rates as well, opting to play his way out of defence, often finding one of his team-mates. A completely different approach from Nemanja Vidić, where he employs a ‘no nonsense’ approach and opting to clear his lines. Coloccini is very comfortable on the ball and his goal against Tottenham in January was akin to a goal produced by any top class centre forward. His neat footwork in the build up play to Lovenkrands’ goal against Wolves is another prime example of how good he is on the ball.
Coloccini has a more favourable tackling success percentage as well, compared to Vidic and Terry. It is a common image of Terry and Vidic lunging into tackles, whereas Coloccini prefers to time his tackles better and as a result, concedes less fouls in the process.
Looking at the way they play and using the statistics to emphasise this, it is obvious that Coloccini is a different type of defender to Vidic and Terry. Their assets are their strengths in the air and on the floor, whereas Coloccini is a more cultured defender. It could be argued that a more favourable comparison to him would be Rio Ferdinand. Both have similar traits, are more ball players rather than your stereotypical central defender. As shown above, his reading of the game and timing is one of the best in the Premier League. Like last season, where he formed a formidable partnership with Williamson and then Taylor, as long as he is paired alongside someone else who’s good in the air, then our defence should be the last of our worries.
I’m pleased that Colocinni will be our captain next season – although he isn’t as vocal as other captains of the past, his performances last season have been of a consistently high standard, he leads by example and along with all of the other Newcastle fans, I am also willing to offer my wife and I also want curly hair too.