x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Mathieu Debuchy is the machine to add steel to Newcastle's defence

The Frenchman has joined the Gallic contingent in England's north-east, and Ian Hawkey says the full-back is a great addition.

Debuchy joined Newcastle from Lille, a move his compatriot Yohan Cabaye previously made. Philippe Huguen / AFP
Debuchy joined Newcastle from Lille, a move his compatriot Yohan Cabaye previously made. Philippe Huguen / AFP

Not long into his senior career at Lille, supporters there began calling Mathieu Debuchy The Terminator. Later he became RoboCop.

"He's the kind of player who will put his head where others would worry about putting their foot," Claude Puel, his former coach at Lille, once said of him.

It is safe to report that Newcastle United's new signing is admired for his bravery and his endurance.

Debuchy is 27, yet he won the first of his 13 caps for France only 14 months ago so he counts as a relatively late developer in the elite of a sport where talents are increasingly hothoused very young and promoted early. Partly because of the injury setbacks - including two cruciate ligament layoffs - from which Debuchy's determined recoveries had him dubbed as a sort of sci-fi hero.

But mainly it is because it took Debuchy a while to find his proper niche in terms of his best position on the field. He became the high-octane full-back who impressed wide audiences at the last European championship.

He had grown up with Lille, where he first enrolled in the youth ranks as an eight year old, playing as deep central midfielder. He would make his first-team debut in that role but Puel thought his assets better suited to the flank. Debuchy had always shown the appetite, energy and stamina for a great deal of running over 90 minutes, but shown less of the 360-degree vision required of a central midfielder.

"First, we tried him on the right of midfield," said Puel. "Then I said to him if you really want to reach the top, perhaps you have to adapt your game a bit more."

The response would be positive. Rudi Garcia, the current Lille head coach, describes Debuchy as a "real modern full-back".

Few positions have changed and become more demanding in 21st century football and Newcastle's long pursuit of the player - fitness and familiarisation with the Premier League permitting - should yield them a potency both in creating chances, launching swift counter-attacks and shoring up a defence that has looked vulnerable.

"When you look at the work he puts in, the quality of his crossing, you see how far he has come in adjusting to the position," Puel said.

Those qualities had been monitored by Newcastle for some time.

Even three years ago when they were managed by Chris Hughton, whose Norwich City will be the opposition for Debuchy's Premier League debut this weekend, the Frenchman was of interest to them.

Then, though, Lille were upwardly mobile, and the refashioned full-back was happy with his progress there. He would play a decisive part in guiding the club to a Ligue 1 and French Cup triumph in 2011.

After that, he watched various friends and allies from Lille go abroad: Gervinho to Arsenal, Adil Rami to Valencia and Yohan Cabaye, the midfielder, to Newcastle. Debuchy and Cabaye are close, they grew up together in Lille's academy and will share a home as the new signing settles in.

Cabaye has sold the idea of Newcastle well to his compatriot. Debuchy was set on the move last summer, although Lille stubbornly held out for a higher offer than the English club would then put forward.

The relationship between the player and his long-term French employers deteriorated as a result. So did Lille's fortunes through the autumn, bundled out of the Uefa Champions League and currently eighth in France's top flight.

But Newcastle, whose €7 million (Dh33.5m) for the player was finally accepted at the beginning of this month, are also in a different position to the high fliers, who had just finished fifth in the Premier League, the Newcastle Cabaye was enthusiastically describing to Debuchy when they talked during France's Euro 2012 campaign.

There Debuchy, promoted to France's first XI once Bacary Sagna, the Arsenal right-back was injured, emerged as one of their better performers.

Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, acknowledged last week that the project he was selling to Debuchy now felt distinct from the manifesto of six months ago. Back then, he could have pointed to the uplift of Cabaye's career at St James' Park, the resurrection there of another France international Hatem Ben Arfa and the club's impressive momentum.

"It was difficult to explain the [current] situation," said Pardew. "In the summer when he was coming he probably thought we were going to be a top-eight side. He understands we've had unusual conditions and if we can get our best team out there, we've got a great side."


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