Pardew Orders his French Troops Not to Surrender
After a hectic week in the transfer market in which Newcastle United have recruited no less than four new players, the optimism and mood around Tyneside has undoubtedly been lifted.
The arrivals of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haidara and Moussa Sissoko have given fans hope that they can now kick on and pull themselves away from the wrong end of the English Premier League table.
However, with all the transfer activity in the past week, key questions need to be answered if Newcastle are to turn their poor season on its head.
Is This Newcastle United or France's National Team?
All four of the new signings this week have been plucked from “Ligue 1” and further enhance Newcastle’s rapidly French-speaking squad.
Added to the earlier arrival of Mathieu Debuchy, the four join Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Gabriel Obertan and Romain Amalfitano as French imports. Even Papiss Cisse and Cheick Tiote already speak French, meaning the sound of a Geordie (or even an English) accent bellowing across the pitch will be hard to come by in the coming months.
But is there such thing as signing too many players from one country in particular?
The key factor to consider here is the quality of the new players. All four were top players at their former clubs and in Haidara’s case, he was one of the most highly-rated players in the league.
Considering the amount of money Newcastle parted with in order to bring these players in, the business Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias have conducted has to go down in the “shrewd” category.
By signing Sissoko and Gouffran while they were in the final stages of their contract, Newcastle have saved a huge amount of money and brought the pair in for less than £5m. A similar deal was struck with Debuchy too, while Yanga-Mbiwa was the only arrival Newcastle paid top dollar for.
Criticism has been levelled at Newcastle for the lack of English players in their squad, but let’s take a look at the English equivalent of the players they have signed.
Debuchy is France’s first choice right-back and the England team’s equivalent is Glen Johnson, who would cost in excess of £10m to sign from Liverpool.
Yanga-Mbiwa is currently breaking into the France team much like Phil Jagielka is for England, and he would cost around £15m if he moved from Everton, so Newcastle cannot be blamed for looking elsewhere.
The list carries on, but the principal stays the same. There is nothing more that fans enjoy than watching English players make up the majority of their club, but in an age where home-grown players are so grossly overpriced, one cannot blame a club for looking abroad in search of value for money.
Sissoko will be hoping to hit the ground running in the Premier League
Of course, there is a potential downside to being so active in the January transfer window.
The new signings must settle into the squad and start to produce some of their best form if Newcastle are to pull away from the relegation battle that they sit just two points clear of.
Starting with Aston Villa on Tuesday night, the French legion must pull their weight and not be overrun by the pace of the Premier League.
One of the main differences between the English and French leagues is the speed of the English game, with the tempo much quicker this side of the channel.
Moussa Sissoko in particular shouldn’t have too much of a problem settling into life in black and white, as his style of play is almost perfectly suited to the English Premier League. Tough tackles, lung-bursting runs and excellent technical ability are what Sissoko is known for, and he will relish playing in England.
The news that Fabricio Coloccini is set to stay at St James’ Park until the end of the season at least will help Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa settle in nicely. If Coloccini had left to return to South America, the pressure on Yanga-Mbiwa’s shoulders to settle in would have been huge.
Massadio Haidara will likely be backup to Davide Santon and Mathieu Debuchy for the large part of the season so he can adapt to life in a new country at just 20 years old, while more is expected from Yoan Gouffran.
The arrival from Bordeaux comes with a decent goal scoring record and not a great deal of pressure, with the small transfer fee meaning expectations aren’t as high as they might have been if Newcastle had re-invested the whole £7m they received from Demba Ba’s transfer to Chelsea.
If the new signings can hit the ground running and get their new side away from the relegation zone, there is no reason Newcastle cannot aim for a mid-table finish come the end of the season. With Europa League qualification via league position out of the question already, it may be wise for Alan Pardew to have a real crack at going far in Europe this season in order to salvage something from what has been a shocking campaign so far.
When things started going wrong this season, Newcastle fans blamed Alan Pardew’s lack of transfer activity in the summer. Pardew was happy to persist with the small squad he had, and fans interpreted this as a lack of ambition on behalf of the board and, in particular, a lack of funds from owner Mike Ashley.
However, there was a sense that at least the club knew they had to recruit or face being dragged into the relegation mire with a small, injury-hit squad.
One week and four new signings later and the faith in the board has somewhat been restored, with the Newcastle squad now having depth in almost all areas, and international players still being attracted to the club, despite the league position.
We’d be here all day discussing the volatile relationship between Mike Ashley and the Newcastle fans—with January’s acts, it’s safe to say that Ashley has done all he possibly can to back his manager and now it is up to Pardew and the playing staff to get the job done on the pitch.