Newcastle United are reportedly plotting a £5 million transfer for Montpellier HSC defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, 22, after boss Alan Pardew was impressed with the player during a recent scouting mission.
It's said that Pardew and his chief scout were actually interested in the defender's teammate, striker Olivier Giroud, 25, who recently won his first caps with the France team and has scored 11 goals in 14 Ligue 1 appearances this season.
But after watching one of Montpellier's games, Pardew and his staff apparently came away as impressed with Yanga-Mbiwa, the imposing, versatile defender who's shone at centre-back this term.
And it seems there is equal interest from the man himself, with Yanga-Mbiwa talking up a move to the Premier League, having been linked with Arsenal and Ligue 1 champions Lille OSC in the summer. He said:
"People live for football in England, and that is what I want to experience."
"I'll see what offers I get, but English football is incredible. There is more physical contact than in France, but I like that—it suits my style of play."
He also admitted to taking English classes, saying that "If one day I need it, then it will have been worth it."
With interest from both sides, and with Montpellier only asking for £5 million, it seems like the perfect move, but is it?
It's certainly the time to strike for Alan Pardew and Newcastle, with the future of captain Fabricio Coloccini, the team's star centre-back, up in the air.
Also, as the club's ambitions move forward with their current progress in the Premier League, the team will need better cover in defence if they are to keep up their form.
Undoubtedly Montpellier's best defender, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, if anything, would provide much better cover and much greater competition for places than the likes of James Perch and Mike Williamson.
Meanwhile, it seems Newcastle would have on their hands a player with a genuine desire to play for the club, a footballer who's willing to give up playing UEFA Champions League football to play for the Toon and the Toon Army.
Montpellier, who are three points clear of Paris Saint Germain at the top of Ligue 1, have a real chance of making it to the Champions League. Even so, Yanga-Mbiwa would be prepared to quit for English football. He said:
"If we play Champions League next term, could I stay? Why not? But I believe I would not reach the level that I want to reach if I stay with Montpellier."
"By leaving, I would be forced to question myself. I would like to question my own limits. I believe the English Premier League is wonderful, but nothing has been decided so far."
As far as the squad's concerned, he seems like the right player to target, but what does the young Frenchman actually provide on the pitch?
For a start, his reading of opposition play is second to none in Ligue 1, with Yanga-Mbiwa making 49 interceptions this season, at a rate of 3.8 per game.
That's more than any Montpellier player, way more than any Newcastle United player and more than any player in France's top flight.
On top of that, Yanga-Mbiwa has also proven himself as a versatile defender in terms of style, able to be a classy centre-back spraying around short passes to start play from the back, or a no-nonsense centre-half who always clears his lines.
The young defender hits, on average, 42 passes per game, which is in fact more than any Newcastle player besides Cheick Tiote, while he does it with a pass success rate of 88 percent, which is far better than any Newcastle player.
And in terms of being no-nonsense, he's also made 67 total clearances this season, at a rate 5.2 per game, just one fewer clearance a game than Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle's second best in that department behind Steven Taylor, who brilliantly makes 8.2 per game, or a staggering 107 clearances overall this campaign.
So it's clear to see what Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa brings to the table, and how instrumental he has been in getting La Paillade to the top of Ligue 1.
Is he the perfect signing for Newcastle United in the January transfer window? At this rate, and for £5 million, it certainly seems so.
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