x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Charles N'Zogbia: wagons circle on flying wing

A posse of Europe's big clubs continue to keep tabs on Wigan's French midfielder.

Charles N’Zogbia, left, who scored twice against former club Newcastle United recently, has the potential to make it to the top, according to Roberto Martinez, his Wigan Athletic manager.
Charles N’Zogbia, left, who scored twice against former club Newcastle United recently, has the potential to make it to the top, according to Roberto Martinez, his Wigan Athletic manager.

The recent history of French football has a surreal feel. As Raymond Domenech's bizarre reign as the national coach reached its tumultuous conclusion, an entire squad refused to train, four players were banned for a total of 25 games and every footballer selected for the World Cup was duly dropped.

And yet perhaps the most unreal moment did not occur in South Africa. When Laurent Blanc, the new coach, named his first side, there was an incongruous sight: a Wigan Athletic player among Les Bleus.

A historic first may also prove a last. The surprise is that Charles N'Zogbia has stayed at the DW Stadium for 19 months. The probability is that he will not remain for much longer. And yet, as with much else in his career, there is an element of the unusual in his transfer negotiations.

When he joined Wigan from Newcastle United in January 2009, it followed an announcement that he would not play for the Magpies again after Joe Kinnear, the manager, referred to him as "Charles Insomnia".

An unfortunate soundbite, it nonetheless symbolised the breakdown of his relationship with Kinnear. N'Zogbia was not alone in rebelling at Kinnear's antiquated methods.

It is not to his credit, however, that he went from saviour to pariah in the eyes of Alex McLeish within a matter of hours. The Birmingham City manager had spent seven months working on a £9 million deal (Dh52.2m) to sign the winger, a record for both clubs, only for N'Zogbia to attempt a little last-minute brinkmanship.

His request for more money, against the advice of his agent, prompted McLeish to cancel the deal and vow not to re-enter talks.

The 24-year-old can appear to lack common sense. Recognisable as Premier League footballers are, this is a man who sent a proxy to take the written part of his driving test. Predictably, the ploy failed. He was subsequently arrested.

So is he more trouble than he is worth? Plenty would argue not, given the armies of scouts who attend Wigan's games.

N'Zogbia's return to Newcastle on Saturday showcased his diverse range of skills. While Fabricio Coloccini's last-minute equaliser prevented his revenge mission being executed to perfection, a wonderful natural leap above the rather taller Mike Williamson brought Wigan's first goal, a shot of real venom and accuracy their second.

This is a footballer with effortless acceleration, allied with a left foot of real potency, a fine crosser who, over the past year, has developed into a goalscorer. A glorious winner against Arsenal and a man-of-the-match display against Liverpool last season showed a capacity to trouble the top teams.

As McLeish realised, he would have added another dimension to a workmanlike Birmingham side. As it is, N'Zogbia may have set his sights higher.

Roberto Martinez, his current manager, has encouraged his ambitions. He has overseen his development, too, with his policy of using his wingers "inside out" - the right-footed Hugo Rodallega starting on the left and N'Zogbia veering infield from an initial position on the opposite flank - both offering a third role he can fill, along with left midfield and left-back, and successfully confounding defenders.

Martinez has said: "It is quite clear the talent Charles has got. We will see him at the top of world football, there is no doubt."

If it sounded like hyperbole, it may not be. N'Zogbia was recently linked with Bayern Munich, last season's Champions League finalists. He has been watched by Marseille, Juventus and, before Rafa Benitez's departure, Liverpool (there is renewed speculation now Roy Hodgson may be granted a substantial transfer budget).

Given his technique and nationality (though there was a suggestion earlier this year that he could play for England), Arsenal are also mentioned. One certainty is that a former manager is interested. Steve Bruce took N'Zogbia to Wigan and would like a reunion. Only the need for a striker prevented him bidding in August although, as the Sunderland manager said then: "I would have loved to have brought Charles here but I signed him for £6.5m 18 months ago and he is going for more than £9m now."

That price may become higher yet. That it was proof of a fine investment in his time in Lancashire may be of scant consolation to Bruce. Because, barring any more disastrous attempts at negotiation, the atypical description "Charles N'Zogbia: Wigan and France" could require amending in January to incorporate a more glamorous employer.

sports@thenational.ae

Profile

Born May 28, 1986 in Harfleur (France)
Position Winger

Clubs (league stats only)
Newcastle United 118 games, 9 goals
Wigan Athletic 50 games, 6 goals
France 1 game, 0 goals