x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Premier League preview: Alan Pardew's French fancy pays for Newcastle

Newcastle have undergone a French revolution with the addition of five players from Ligue 1 in January, explains Richard Jolly.

Moussa Sissoko, centre, and Yoann Gouffran, left, are part of the French twist Newcastle are bringing to the English Premier League.
Moussa Sissoko, centre, and Yoann Gouffran, left, are part of the French twist Newcastle are bringing to the English Premier League.

Vive le Toon.

Newcastle's St James' Park may be the Premier League ground farthest from Paris but no English club are such eager Francophiles.

The January additions of five men from across the channel mean they could field an outfield 10 consisting entirely of Frenchmen, even without those, such as the Africans Cheik Tiote, Gael Bigirimana and Papiss Demba Cisse, who share the same first language.

By bargain-hunting in Ligue 1, where both wages and transfer fees are lower, they have pursued a policy to an extreme. By aiming to integrate imports, they have created an environment where many an import can slot in smoothly.

Bienvenue a Neuchatel-sur-Tyne.

A manager who once championed Brits is more Alain Pardieu than Alan Pardew.

The French revolution may turn around Newcastle's season. Last year's surprise club had tumbled into trouble before Tuesday's visit to Aston Villa.

Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran made accomplished debuts to help them into a 2-0 lead against relegation rivals.

Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa came off the bench to make his bow and help halt the Villa onslaught after the hosts had pulled a goal back and Newcastle, once again, were upwardly mobile.

Factor in right-back Mathieu Debuchy, the first arrival of the month, and the left-back Massadio Haidara, whose first appearance could come against Chelsea today, and they are the French five.

At times, it seemed as though there would be still more.

"On my way to Newcastle, having a medical then signing a four-year contract," wrote the Reading winger Jimmy Kebe on Twitter. The transfer talk was, it soon transpired, a hoax that fooled many.

Kebe added: "Oops, I thought if you're French and play football you pop into Newcastle and sign a contract."

It may be the image but there is a logic behind it.

"We go to France because it's working," Graham Carr, the club's chief scout, said in an interview with L'Equipe; in itself, that is a sign of the French interest in Newcastle.

"I love France and the French players. The reasons we are recruiting them is due to having a lot of fun and success working with Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa.

"They are real quality players, very professional and indispensable. The French youth academy system is so good.

"Our aim was to bring in young players with a future."

At 27, Debuchy stretches the definition of young but Newcastle are certainly finding value for money.

Their five newcomers include three France internationals, while Gouffran and Haidara have represented their country at the Under 21 level, and they cost a combined £18 million (Dh104.9m).

To put that into comparison, it is around half the £35m they received from Liverpool for Andy Carroll two years ago.

Cabaye, bought 18 months ago for £4.8m, may represent their best business in France. He is both a pioneer and a role model admired for his professionalism. His superlative long-range strike clinched victory at Villa.

Now the magician has a muscular minder.

"He's going to enjoy playing with Sissoko," Pardew said. "He's going to protect him and give him that power and pace."

There are on-field and off-field theories to explain their recruitment drive. "I obviously don't agree with people who think that this big influx of French players will create a problem," Carr said.

At the least, a shared background and language gives Newcastle an identity.

Chelsea have had a French-African faction during Roman Abramovich's decade in charge, and one of their number, the former Newcastle forward Demba Ba, makes his first return to St James' Park.

At times, Brazilian, Danish, Dutch, English, Israeli, Italian, Portuguese and Russian groups have competed for influence, whether in the dressing room or behind the scenes.

Newcastle's aim is for the club's suffix, United, to prove an accurate description.

The French players are charged with learning English. The Brits are reciprocating.

The defender Steven Taylor, one of the outnumbered Geordies in the group, said: "I'm learning a bit and I'm going to get a French CD for the car."



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