Newcastle United now have 13 French speaking players in their first team squad, 10 of them being French. In the January transfer window Newcastle purchased 5 French players in an attempt to ensure Newcastle were not relegated to the Championship. The players have undoubtedly added much needed depth, experience and class to the squad.
Plenty jokes have been made about Newcastle’s French contingent such as Newcastle being the Ligue 1’s 21st club. However, some jokes have strayed over the line and taken a more malicious side. The argument of some of the French players lacking ‘bottle’, just like what was falsely argued against black players in this country, has been seen on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. French players have also been called ‘scum’ by supporters and people have questioned why Newcastle seemingly always turn to Ligue 1 for talent. Some of the attitudes shown have been very xenophobic, perhaps showing how football still has a lot of work to do to eradicate xenophobia/racism from the game.
Clearly though the French players do not lack ‘bottle’. For example, Moussa Sissoko, has a brilliant work rate and displays immense bravery every game. The quality that the French players have shown has been much needed and often better than their English teammates. Mathieu Debuchy is a brilliant right-back who gets forward while remaining responsible at the back. Compare this to Danny Simpson, who despite being statistically the best right-back last season is half the player of Debuchy. Cabaye possesses a great range of passing and is blessed with great vision. He is the midfield metronome of the team. I honestly believe that without the French signings Newcastle would have struggled to stay up this season. I was at the must win Aston Villa game where Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran had a blistering impact.
Praise has to be given to Newcastle United’s transfer policy. Newcastle waited until players contracts were close to expiring and then managed to buy the players incredibly cheaply. If Newcastle were not in such a precarious position they would probably have waited till the summer and then aquired the players on free transfers. Here are the outstanding deals: Yoan Gouffran 1,760,000, Moussa Sissoko (previously rated a £15million man) £2,200,000, Mathieu Debuchy £5,456,000, Mapou Yanga-M’biwa £7,040,000 et finallement Massadio Haïdara £2,200,000. (Figures according to http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk). It must be mentioned that 3 of the 5 players listed have been fully capped for France. Yanga-M’biwa captained Montpellier to the Ligue 1 title last season, a team which included Arsenal’s Oliver Giroud. As Arsène Wenger has shown in the past, the French market has represented the best value for money and also produced success. The invincibles of Arsenal had 9 French speaking players in their squad.
So, the critics of the French connection may soon be proved wrong. Newcastle are still in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and if they can win 2-0 at St James Park against Benfica they will progress. The French speakers will have a huge part to play. What has been very refreshing is the way the Geordie faithful have welcomed the French. Against Southampton the club decided to do a French day, with La Marseillaise being sung before kick off. Supporters also wear berets to games and the tricolore is waved in the crowd. I have a half French national side, half Newcastle shirt! The fact though that the Geordies, some of the harshest critics in world football, are liking the French players, shows that the French players are the crème de la crème.