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Pope visit was perfect preparation for Newcastle skipper
FABRICIO COLOCCINI will put months of uncertainty behind him when he starts the new Premier League season with Newcastle United tonight – even if it is without the blessing of the Pope.
Coloccini was part of the Argentina squad which visited Pope Francis at the Vatican last week in the build up to the international friendly with Italy.
Pope Francis is an ardent supporter of San Lorenzo, so would have loved to have seen the Magpies' influential skipper head home during the summer.
But instead Coloccini will be at the heart of the Newcastle defence which begins the new season against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium tonight.
“I knew Pope Francis was a San Lorenzo fan. He has a season ticket and everything,” said Coloccini. “You could tell he still really loves San Lorenzo when he spoke with us (the Argentina squad).
“I shook hands with him. He is always speaking about San Lorenzo, and so for me as a fan, it was amazing. There were about 200 people there so we just said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you for everything’.”
Coloccini will be hoping his decision to commit his future to Newcastle will start well after coming to terms with the fact he no longer wants to return to Argentina.
Family issues meant much of last season was spent discussing the possibility of a return to San Lorenzo, the team he supported as a child. The two clubs' failure to reach an agreement over the finances involved, though, prevented him from departing.
Now Coloccini, 31, insists such talk is behind him and is fully concentrated on enjoying the remaining time he has left as a Premier League footballer.
“I spoke with my family and had to take a decision,” he said. “I’ve worked all my life to have a dream – and my dream is to play at the top level of football. So I spoke with them, they could understood that and that’s why I’m here now.
“I made my decision in the middle of the holidays. I am here now and I am happy. My relationship with Newcastle was very important in making my decision. All the fans in the street, when they stopped me, they asked me to stay and those things sometimes make the difference.
“Newcastle is a special club for me, of course. I’ve spent five years here. I’ve supported San Lorenzo since I was small. But I feel something for Newcastle now. I’ve been here five years and the fans are amazing.”
Coloccini still has three years remaining on his contract and has not ruled out staying for the duration.
He said: “You never know. Of course I have a contract for a long time so hopefully I can see out my contract here.”
After making the decision to stay, the former Deportivo La Coruna defender now wants to make sure Newcastle do not suffer another frustrating domestic season after flirting with relegation last time around.
“We have to do the right things because last year was very bad for us. We have to improve a lot,” he said. “We have a great squad and we have good players. Of course, if you say we can sign some players that will be good because they can help us.
“The best thing in pre-season is to get the players now, because you can do a full pre-season and you can get to know them. Sometimes in January it is too late.”
A decent season for Newcastle is likely to mean an appearance at the World Cup next summer when he would be in the same Argentina squad as compatriot Sergio Aguero.
Coloccini will be expected to keep Aguero quiet tonight if the City striker passes a fitness test, but he knows Newcastle will have their work cut out against a team which has spent more than £60m this summer.
“Sergio’s very good, he’s a good man and a fantastic player,” said the Newcastle captain. “How we can stop him is difficult to say because he is a top player and can do what he wants every time.
“We may have to give him a little kick! I’m good friends with him, he’s a good man. We have a good relationship.”
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Krul; Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Coloccini, Santon; Tiote, Sissoko; Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Gouffran; Cisse.
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