Much like most places around the world, the North-East of England, and in particular the Geordie part of the region, has its own culture – Newcastle brown ale, an almost unmatched passion for football, women who refuse to wear coats in sub-zero temperatures, and the odd large, over-tattooed fan, who is not ashamed to reveal his gut to 50,000 people. I am sure many inhabitants in the north-east would argue such characteristics are widespread, but when it comes to Newcastle such features are developing a much more continental feel.
The transition from big ale drinkers to sophisticated French wine sippers is well underway in the Newcastle United dressing room. It was a process that began as a soft breeze over the past few years with the arrival’s of Hatem Ben Arfa, Gabriel Obertan, Yohan Cabaye, Romain Amalfitano and Sylvain Marveaux, not to mention the French speaking Cheick Tiote, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, but has gathered gale-force speed during this January transfer window with Alan Pardew recruiting half of France in the form of Mathieu Debuchy, Massadio Haidara, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, and Moussa Sissoko is expected to follow.
The latest influx of French talent has highlighted Newcastle’s current plight. Seldom do you see so many arrivals at one club in a January window, but for Newcastle it is needed.
With Newcastle’s current form, many would argue that Newcastle over-achieved last season – after all, it was only their second season back in the top flight. Flirtations with the top four and a spot in the Europa League were always benchmarks that the team would find hard to maintain. The combination of a thin squad, stretched even further by injuries, has left the Magpies hovering dangerously above the relegation zone. With Alan Pardew seemingly unable to turn the tide, a revolution was needed and it has arrived in the form of several of Ligue 1′s good/promising players.
Demba Ba’s departure to Chelsea and Fabricio Coloccini’s attempt to engineer a move back to his homeland (now resolved) haven’t helped the Geordie’s cause either in recent weeks. ”It’s obvious that we need fresh impetus and that’s probably what we’ve lost,” said Alan Pardew. “We’ve lost Demba Ba [to Chelsea], we’ve lost Cheick Tiote [to the Africa Cup of Nations], we’ve lost games and it takes it away from players.
“We definitely need two or three more players in this group, and hopefully we can get them over the line before we go to Villa,” continued the Newcastle manager, before adding: ”I would like to go to Villa [with a] stronger squad.”
It is team spirit and a united dressing room that are going to be big tools in Newcastle’s survival this season and it is no surprise all of the recruits will speak the main language of the Newcastle dressing room, it is just surprising that is French.
The French contingent at St James’ Park will give Newcastle fans will hope that Alan Pardew men will survive. With the arrivals of Haidara, Yanga-Mbiwa, Debuchy and Gouffran, Newcastle have recruited a promising left-back who is an established French Under-21 international, a centre-back who’s already won a league title and a handful of caps for France despite being only 21, a defender of proven international pedigree, and a midfielder who despite a poor goalscoring record – Gouffran is still to find the net this season – offers much-needed forward options to Alan Pardew.
Fitting five new players into a team isn’t an easy task – particularly when English football, is so unforgiving – and one that normally requires time and various attempts before being mastered. But time is one luxury Alan Pardew can’t afford, with Newcastle facing Aston Villa on Tuesday in what is shaping to be a relegation battle, his new signings need to hit the ground running and be integrated to the team quickly.
You can see why Pardew has made the signings he has, especially with the success of previous imports from Ligue 1 and the value for money you seem to get. The problem is that a dressing room dominated by a particular nationality can prove a hot potato to handle for the manager, particularly with a team trying to negotiate rough seas as Newcastle are in at the moment.
But Pardew maybe sees this as a risk worth taking.
The apologists will point at Arsenal’s record over the early 2000s as proof that a Premier League side with a strong European backbone can be successful in the league, but it is not all plain sailing.
Doom merchants irked by the influx of foreign players in the Premier League will take solace in the notion that Anfield’s Spanish invasion didn’t prove anywhere near as successful as the French revolution Wenger orchestrated in North London. Liverpool were metaphorically left with many white elephants in the room after Rafa Benitez’s decision to surround himself with compatriots left his former club burdened with players such as Albert Riera.
Foreign-nationality dominated dressing rooms are a common occurrence in European football that have spawned tales of both success and calamitous mutiny. Jose Mourinho skippered Inter Milan to a historic Treble in 2009-10, with each of the two South American heavyweights represented by four players in the dressing room (plus another Argentine and three Brazilians on loan).
Barca’s Dutch contingent at the turn of the millennium wasn’t as successful as acrimonious feelings became as regular a sight at the Camp Nou as the one of Lionel Messi celebrating a goal is these days.
All of that aside, Mike Ashley has backed his man. Alan Pardew wanted players and now he has got them he needs to get develop the right chemistry within his team as quickly as possible if Newcastle are to rescue their season and steer clear of the relegation zone. A successful second half of the campaign might not be enough to convince the locals to ditch Brown Ale for glasses of bordeaux and cabernet, but at least it would spare them the ignominy of waving “Au revoir” to the Premier League.
One thing is for sure, Alan Pardew can no longer have any excuses about his sides inconsistency, we will see at the end of the season whether things will be Les Misérables to Les Manifique.
Are you a Newcastle fan excited about the new signings? Are you confident of survival? Or is the shine starting to fade from Alan Pardew? Let us know below, because it is your view that counts. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with the latest transfer news and banter this window.