When my friend was complaining to me and opening his heart about things relating to his family and how he felt powerless to the way they had shaped his unhappy character, I said to him, what about Fabricio Coloccini? Fabricio Coloccini is a professional footballer who plays centre half for Newcastle United, and for the Argentina national side – not that I had to explain this to my friend. I said, what about Fabricio Coloccini, the insults he receives, week in week out, with fifty thousand or so football fans shouting unreserved abuse at his person? Imagine that, I said.
Across from me at the tiny red table, which our knees barely fit beneath these days, my friend squinted. The smile at the corner of his mouth was as if to say, you’re trying to make me feel better by coming up with something that has nothing to do with this; you’re trying to make me laugh. I wasn’t, though. It was only that I was unwilling to listen to my boyhood friend’s complaints (by now familiar) to do with how powerless he feels in his life. Otherwise, possibly, I might have been less imaginative in my insensitivity.
This thing about Fabricio Coloccini, though. God knows, the thought had never occurred to me fully formed – that Fabricio Coloccini’s woes put in perspective those of self-pitying young men – but I said to my friend, without really knowing exactly why, consider Fabricio Coloccini. I might have told him to turn his mind to any professional footballer, but it was Fabricio Coloccini I chose.
I must, though, know something about why it was this particular footballer who came to mind, with his distinctive complement of curly blonde hair, with the incomplete polygon of his career path, as I see it – beginning in Argentina, before signing for clubs in Italy, then Spain, then England. Increasingly, after all, the time I have been spending on trains, morning and evening (going away from the red table, coming back to it), has been taken up letting my mind escape like vapours and take form in the high drama and tragedy of Fabricio Coloccini’s life in Newcastle.
Fabricio Coloccini lands in Newcastle for the first time. He has his agent with him, a man for whom he has little affection, but who has orchestrated his transfer from Deportivo La Coruña to Newcastle FC, with its attendant forty thousand pounds a week pay rise. Fabricio Coloccini knows that this will have taken some work on the agent’s part, but also that the agent won’t have done badly out of the deal either. So they manage to keep it civil. But their feelings towards one another, little more than tepid, mean that when Fabricio Coloccini steps out into the fantastic grey of this part of the world, England’s north east, and when the hairs on his forearms are quickly patterned by the drizzle coming across the runway, even though it is August, he has no one to whom he might express the drop in spirits he feels. It is a pang he has not felt since his mother waved him off to his first semi-professional footballing academy, in his early teens, all those years and a number of continents ago. His body remembers that feeling, as he emerges from First Class onto the runway steps; he tries to account for the queasiness – he tells himself that it was possibly the crayfish, the kiwi coulis, the grapes, the Cointreau truffles – but a louder voice in him is just saying, this is all wrong – but maybe – no: this is all wrong. He feels opened at his stomach, his innards drawn in a slow slippery heave, as he observes each detail of the manicured but patently third class interior of Newcastle International: kicked blue carpets, years old chairs, 70’s lines, possibly polystyrene ceiling panels. And the women, in whose admiring looks he might usually find consolation, they have so many layers of makeup he thinks they must be hiding something, and their eyes are none of them kind. He keeps his very large Ray Ban aviators on.
The signing of the contract and introduction to various board members passes without incident, and all in a babble foreign to Fabricio Coloccini, even though he knows English quite well and could recite whole scenes hailing from Conan The Barbarian, The Running Man, Total Recall, Twins and the Terminator franchise. Even though he’s pretty clear about the language when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speaking it, the Geordie accent has little in common with the Austrian, android clarity which Schwarzenegger’s enunciation achieves.
Pre-season training also passes relatively straightforwardly. Fabricio Coloccini has an interpreter on the sidelines and for team talks, and his prodigious physical talents and ability to anticipate the flow of a game serve him well. His Spanish-speaking colleagues say encouraging things, and he feels something peculiar which is to do with an understanding that they are being genuine – because he is a good player, possibly the most naturally gifted in the squad – but that the things they say do not seem heartfelt, and he suspects the manager has told them they have to make these remarks to help him feel at home. When he is in the gym doing squats, or in with the physio having his calves massaged, or in the showers, they come by and say things, but he does not believe them. They are thinking about performance-related bonuses, not him.
All of which is to say, after a particularly easy training session, when he gets back to his multi-million pound home in a gated community on the city’s south-eastern edge, when he recognizes that the colours of the rugs and the carpets, the quartzed marble in the kitchen and bedrooms, as well as the flotilla of squash-faced dogs that greet him, are all of someone else’s choosing, and when it is dark outside, Fabricio Coloccini is quite alone in the world. And he knows it. The constant drizzle against the floor-to-ceiling windows – it is only like multiples of his solitude, repetitions of ones – is there any way he might find comfort in it?
What does he do? What would any man do?
He rings up José Enrique Sánchez Díaz (known to Newcastle teammates and fans as “The Bull,” and on his club shirt simply as “Enrique”). The Bull says sin problemas. Dejalo a mi – leave it to me. José Enrique (known to the cadre of pimps and night club owners who service him and other highly paid, time-rich footballers in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, as a “tiddler” – an easy catch) makes a phone call.
The next night, of the six young women who accompany José Enrique and his cousin, Danny, to Fabricio Coloccini’s home, the one who interests Fabricio Coloccini is the one who does not feign surprise or pleasure or delight at the contents and style of his mansion’s B-palatial interior. Her false smile is less practised, less assured, other things slip through: uncertainties. It is the one who is least theatrically thankful when, twenty-five minutes and a glass of champagne each later, they go through the motions of love-making in front of the contemporary stone fireplace. It is the one who looks him in the eye when he ejaculates on her collarbone and chin.
She’s the one.
The next time José Enrique and Danny come over, a week later, true to the straightforward romantic push-pull which Fabricio Coloccini’s heart is subject to (due to days and weeks spent watching all that Schwarzenegger, bleak small hotel hours taking comfort in films whose romantic arrangements repeat, with an undeniable and almost recursive insistency, in the lives and loves of the imaginatively idle), there had been a mix up with the order. It is one busty nineteen-year-old Asian beauty and one considerably older Norwegian madam that take it in turns with Fabricio Coloccini on the overcast Thursday afternoon in question. The Ukrainian waif with the piercing eyes (that pierced him), she of the leg length barbed wire-and-roses tattoo, is not there. We interpret Fabricio Coloccini’s distracted looks throughout fruits de mer and coitus to say: has she been shipped back to Eastern Europe, or is she perhaps attending some fat, unkind, bearded property developer from Beresfield, or has she endured some other, worse fate, unimaginable to the love-struck?
His mind is affected. He remembers something his mother once said. Maybe he is in love.
True to the straightforward romantic dialectic at work when I imagine the workings of Fabricio Coloccini’s lonely heart, the progression of the pair’s relations barely need describing. It is not long before he has sought her employers, found the whereabouts of her shared accommodation, foxed his team physio by dislocating his shoulder (something he can pop in and pop out at will, when in need of time off), and taken Remarova for a week of pinchos, Albariño wine and walks on the Atlantic waterfront at Coruña. He hopes that, like a diamond dropped in a polluted stretch of water, her presence will transform the mansion, as much as his life. Soon he’s given her the keys to the castle (a phrase they find works equally well in Spanish, English and most Eastern European languages, and which happens to feature in their shared favourite Schwarzenegger movie), and she is there waiting when he returns from battle on Saturdays. She cooks dumplings and sings hauntingly on the loo –
Fabricio Coloccini, Fabricio Coloccini, Fabricio Coloccini, Fabricio Coloccini
– and soon they have given away the squadron of stupid, inbred Pekinese to the local dog home, who are pleased because, they say, the money they fetch could possibly save it from the threat of bankruptcy and closure.
So, I have this very melodramatic and quite sketchy idea of one or two scenes that relate highly indirectly to Fabricio Coloccini himself, the details of whose inner life I’ll never be privy to.
I don’t know Newcastle, either. I might have stopped there a few times on trains to other places, maybe even changed trains and bought a Cornish pasty in the station. I have an impression of the city that is patched together from Geordies I have met, the saying that carrying coals there would be a waste of time and the related idea of its folk as industrial workers, and, God knows, probably also related to the fact that the city’s football team plays in the most unspangled of kits – black and white striped shirt, black shorts, black socks.
Neither do I know Argentina. My impressions of it have to do with other things: the way Spanish in the Argentinean accent, spoken by women, sounds luxurious. The shape in the mouth of the words “Tierra Del Fuego.” Sierras or cordilleras or whatever it is they have there, gauchos or matreros; huge, billion-starred skies.
Not that my friend, sitting across from me, looking even more sullen than before, knew anything about this, not that it made the red table any more comfortable to cram ourselves under, and not that I could have told my friend, even, very much of this story – about the things I know and can say about the things I don’t know. But, in my mind, it is certain that Fabricio Coloccini loves the whore.