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Colback disdain nothing to do with the past and all to do with the present

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Jack Colback has come under fire from many fronts since his switch from Sunderland to Newcastle. The case against him goes deeper than rivalry.

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As he posed in his Newcastle shirt for the first time, Jack Colback will most certainly have been aware of the fury that surrounded him. Certainly not many in black and white were happy at his arrival on a long-term contract.

Across the way, Wearside was just as annoyed if not more so. It's one thing to leave the football club that helped make you a professional, it's another to do so and join their arch rivals. The club's Twitter account could not resist from airing their frustration at how things had transpired. That he had chosen Newcastle – a club he taunted during derby victories – only to then talk about being home at 'his club'.

Colback had crossed a divide that few players had navigated successfully and as many pundits stated at the time, he would endure an arduous battle to convince Newcastle fans he was worthy of their support.

In many ways that same backstory makes it hard to critique Colback without coming across as some sort of Mackem bashing. He's held to a higher standard because of his past rather than his present. The truth is I've never subscribed to the idea that you can't touch an ex-Sunderland player. I want the club to sign good players, regardless of their past.

It's at that point Colback runs into his first obstacle. Talk to Sunderland fans and they'll tell you he was steady if not spectacular. He was a utility player that never quite nailed down one position. He's often been billed as a box-to-box midfielder with Roy Hodgson even dubbing him 'the Ginger Pirlo'.

Sadly he's more the like the 'Ginger Gosling'. The problem with Colback is not really a technique one. He's solid enough in terms of ball retention. His pass completion is actually the highest in the squad of those that have played over 500 minutes this season. On paper you think exactly what a Sunderland fan will tell you 'solid if not spectacular'.

Reading that same stat sheet will also alert you to some issues. He leads the team for yellow cards this season with seven. He's actually accrued more yellow cards than Lee Cattermole, a man I'm sure we've all lamented at some point, usually after he's just crashed into someone we quite like.

Those who defend him will point out that ball retention and it's a relatively fair point. Keep the ball and they can't score. It's when you start to delve deeper than the stats you start to truly see the problem with Colback's presence in the side.

Often sitting far too close to centre-backs, he also rarely makes himself available for possession. The idea that he is a metronome is also destroyed when you realise he averages 30 passes per game. Jonjo Shelvey – a player the club has been linked too recently – makes double that. The simple truth of the matter is, Colback is afraid to dictate the game and he doesn't do enough to even keep it chugging along.

Arriving at Newcastle and handed the number 4 shirt this season, it's hard not to yearn for Yohan Cabaye when you look at Colback in the middle of midfield. Rarely making himself open for the ball he also struggles to pass it forward without any purpose. Instead if you assess his chalkboards a lot of his passes are safe and out wide to the likes of Sissoko and Wijnaldum.

In the bigger picture that impacts the team significantly. Uncomfortable playing the ball in central areas, McClaren made the bizarre decision to hook Vurnon Anita on Saturday evening. The Dutchman gives more energy and more defensive contributions than Colback while also being a more dynamic passer of the ball.

Furthermore the one benefit and selling point Colback had last season was goals. The fact he rarely goes further than the half way line this season means that's unlikely to happen again though. Whether that shackling is his own mental inhibition or the work of McClaren is irrelevant, it's crippling the team's ability to attack and operate as a fluid unit.

Essentially Newcastle have two identical midfielders. Jump back to the Cabaye era and they're naming two small Cheick Tiote's in the middle of the park. Considering that 26% of the team's play comes through the centre of the field (whoscored.com) then you start to see the issue. Clearly McClaren is aware of this and is consequently trying to play it out wide to negate their deficiencies.

With January fast approaching it leaves the club with one simple option, spend. That's not something the club have done historically, let alone in January though. One would hope that Mike Ashley appreciates they're firmly entrenched in another relegation battle and it's not something you want to take a risk on.

Certainly in the short-term a move inside for Gini Wijnaldum may be a shrewd move, but it is by no means a fix to the problem. Shelvey seems like the kind of player that is needed, although his own weak mentality is a slight concern given the pressure the club are under at present.

A problem we've watched grow as the weeks pass, it boils down to a simple fact; we didn't replace Cabaye and now we have to, before it's too late.