Yohan Cabaye's Newcastle United Exit Remains a Gamble for Both Club and Player

Alex Dimond@alexdimondUK Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2014

At some point last year, it became inevitable to all parties concerned that Yohan Cabaye was going to leave Newcastle United—and probably sooner rather than later.

That point probably came at the start of August, around the time that Arsenal made a bid—quoted at the time by the BBC at around £10 million—for his services.

Cabaye wanted to leave and made that abundantly clear, but Newcastle, entirely justifiably, were unwilling to sell at that price. When Arsenal did not return with a significantly better offer before the summer window closed, the deal quickly died.

When the Gunners then splurged £42.5 million on Mesut Ozil instead, the chances of the deal for Cabaye being revived were extinguished entirely. And the player, who had withdrawn himself from selection for a period saying his head was not right, ended up apologising to staff and fans for his conduct during the saga.

“I want to do my best for the club, for the team, for everyone and, of course, I want to win every game we play,” Cabaye told the club’s official website at the start of September.

“If the fans were—or still are—mad at me for what happened then I understand and I apologise to them.”

Nevertheless, both player and club then knew exactly where they stood, with little room for interpretation.

Cabaye wanted to leave for the right opportunity (and would be especially anxious not to let the next chance slip away after seeing his Arsenal aspirations thwarted); Newcastle would consider selling, but only at the right price.

Move the clock six months forward, and that situation has now been exploited. Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly ready to pay around £23 million, per Colin Young of the Daily Mail, to bring Cabaye back to his native France, where he was last seen leading Lille to the Ligue 1 title in 2011.

The deal is still to be finalised, but barring some last-minute hiccup, it looks destined to go through. Cabaye has already said his goodbyes in Newcastle and flown to Paris for a medical in anticipation of a successful conclusion to negotiations between the two clubs.

In a basic way, the deal makes obvious sense. Cabaye gets the move to a Champions League side he craved, PSG strengthen their squad for that competition (and their continued press for the domestic title), and Newcastle have managed to drive up the price by an extra 60 percent over the course of six months.

Regardless of his importance to the side, a near-£19 million profit on a player bought for just over £4 million less than three years will go down as an impressive piece of business in the boardroom at St James’ Park.

But as with the recent transfer of Juan Mata to Manchester United, it is often easy to look at (and judge) transfers in exclusively financial terms, overlooking the very real footballing issues that may be created or left behind.

Those, too, will have a significant impact.

Yes, Newcastle have made a handsome sum from selling their captain, but how will losing arguably their most important player affect the remainder of the season?

Cabaye’s statistics for the season (seven goals and two assists in 17 league starts, per Whoscored.com) barely do justice to his importance to the squad. He has played games as a defensive midfielder, conventional central midfielder and attacking midfielder—offering a tactical flexibility of which Alan Pardew has often taken advantage.

He is not only a threat with his long-range shots, but he's also a fine passer of through balls and an invaluable disrupter when without the ball—the complete all-round midfielder.

While it would be unwise to write off Newcastle’s chances of finding a similarly talented midfield gem from somewhere in Europe before the January window closes (although, if Joe Kinnear really is in charge of the search, the Internet wiseacres will surely express their doubts), if unaddressed, the loss of Cabaye would seem to be a huge blow to Newcastle’s ongoing aspirations.

Currently eighth in the Premier League after 22 games with Cabaye leading the charge, without the Frenchman, it would seem the club can forget about any hopes they had of securing European qualification.

Then again, the media’s tendency to underestimate Pardew and Newcastle began around the time Cabaye joined the club. Perhaps this will just prove another opportunity for the press to be shown as the inexact critics they often are.

Reported bids for Montpellier playmaker Remy Cabella and talented Lyon attacking midfielder Clement Grenier, per Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star, suggest Newcastle have long been making provisions for Cabaye’s eventual departure.

However, Grenier may prove difficult to lure, and Cabella looks set to arrive only in the summer.

“The talks are going on above me at owner level, but we've informed the club concerned that we need time to sign a replacement,” Pardew said this week, per Luke Edwards at The Telegraph. “But until such time that a deal is agreed, we can’t put a bid of our own in."

Pardew also said, per Ewan Roberts of Goal.com: “So, at the moment, we don’t actually know whether that club is willing to sell. We’re getting near the end of the window now and we have to be careful.”

Perhaps sensing it would be difficult to find a player with Cabaye’s complete range of skills, especially in such a small time frame, Pardew might be looking at recreating his influence across two or three new signings—with Cabella and/or Grenier providing the creativity if one (or both) arrives.

The imminent loan arrival of Luuk de Jong, meanwhile, would appear to be a move designed to replace Cabaye’s “lost” goals by strengthening the attacking ranks. The move also allows the club to take a close look at him before deciding in the summer whether to sign him on a permanent deal (when Papiss Cisse’s own uncertain future may also be clearer).

Regardless, the Dutchman looks unlikely to immediately become prolific—he has not scored yet in a litany of substitute appearances for Borussia Moenchengladbach and probably needs time to both adjust to the Premier League and gain full fitness before he can really contribute.

Indeed, the most immediate change might come from within.

The Cabaye departure may provide a glorious opportunity for Vurnon Anita, a similar player signed a year after the Frenchman who has subsequently seen his chances limited behind Cabaye and Cheick Tiote.

Anita is not the probing attacking threat and all-action destroyer that Cabaye can be at his best, but in his own way, Anita has the feel of a similar guiding presence for whichever team he is in. Considering his diminutive stature, deft touch, passing touch and eye for the rhythms and flow of a game, he seems somewhat reminiscent of Luka Modric.

It will be interesting to see how he develops if he is given the chance to play week in, week out for almost the first time since his arrival on Tyneside. Perhaps Pardew hopes that he will grow into his side’s conductor, gambling that if the Dutchman does not, then they can at least buy again in the summer.

But even if Anita comes on leaps and bounds, the growing pains and subtle change in style required to adjust after Cabaye’s exit (tactically, things would have to change—and Pardew might just turn back to Hatem Ben Arfa instead) seems almost certain to prevent Newcastle from finishing any better than their current league position.

That would mean no European football for next season, the lack of which has already been cited as a major reason why the 28-year-old Cabaye wants to move on.

Yet, at a time when Everton are managing to tie down Leighton Baines for another four years, what does it say about Newcastle’s fortunes or ambitions that they cannot keep hold of their own talismanic influence?

As Pardew himself acknowledged, again per Goal.com:

You’re more likely to lose [players like Cabaye] if you’re not in the Champions League.

If we had won two more over Christmas and January, then I could have argued we have a realistic chance of the Champions League.

But it’s difficult to look a player in the eye and say we have a realistic chance when the bigger teams all kept winning.

It should not be assumed that Cabaye is selfishly leaving his old club in the lurch, however. For him, too, this transfer is something of a gamble.

Cabaye still has to cement his starting position in France’s starting lineup, and it is arguable that playing every week for a successful Newcastle side was his best way of doing that. Moving to PSG brings with it an element of risk—a bigger club with a bigger squad means more rotation and more time out of the side, while readjusting to French football may also take some time.

Laurent Blanc already has a settled midfield unit to call upon and a (tightening) title race to fight. While it is eminently possible he will immediately insert Cabaye to pep up his team and give them an extra dimension, it is equally plausible that the former France boss errs on the side of caution and keeps his new signing on the bench more often than not.

There is also the possibility that, had he waited, Manchester United might have also come in for him. (Although, in reality, the signing of Juan Mata, like Ozil at Arsenal, probably nixed anything immediate for the No. 4 at Old Trafford.)

However, Newcastle, money hungry as they are often portrayed, are unlikely to have declined to explore the possibility of a bidding war, had one been a viable prospect.

Much has been made of how Mike Ashley has liked to see Newcastle run as a business—with players sold without emotion if there is the chance to make a profit from them or the possibility to sell them above their considered “market value.”

Selling Cabaye will certainly benefit the bottom line at St James’ Park, but it's at a clear cost to the product on the pitch.

Cabaye is gambling with his international prospects in making the move to PSG at this stage of the season—but to an extent, so too are Newcastle.

Either they are staking their short-term sporting chances on their ability to replace their most important player with one or more new signings, or they are simply sacrificing those chances in order to make a big profit on a player who wanted to leave anyway.

As Pardew concluded, somewhat pessimistically, per Edwards:

I’d be foolish if I didn’t have a plan to deal with him going. We have. ...

... [But] You're talking to someone who lost Andy Carroll with about eight hours to go [until the deadline in 2011], so am I confident?

No, I'm not.

Only time will tell.



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