Newcastle United have been very active in the January transfer window, doing almost everything in their power to asset strip France’s Ligue 1 as thoroughly as possible. But who are these French players they have signed and are the Magpies getting good value for their money?
Having watched almost every single game in Ligue 1 over the past eighteen months, here’s my assessment of their new French recruits:
Mathieu Debuchy was a hero at Lille, the local boy come good, rising through the ranks to become a star. He joined the club at the age of eight and through a combination of persistence, hard work and skill, helped guide Les Dogues to a memorable league title in 2010/11 – their first in over 50 years.
At the time, it wasn’t a given that he would ever make it. “When he graduated from the academy it was difficult to imagine he could come this far,” former Lille manager Claude Puel commented when Debuchy was named in France’s Euro 2012 squad, and it is a testament to the 27-year-old’s professionalism and dedication to football that he reached this high level.
A marauding right back, he competes with Bacary Sagna for first choice in the French national team. Physically he is impressive, his boundless energy and stamina allowing him to roam up and down the right touchline all day.
He is not the most creative, managing only 7 assists in 233 games in Ligue 1 (according to LFP.fr) but he did manage 16 goals, a reasonable return for a right back. His crossing can also be dangerous when he gets forward.
At £5.5million Newcastle have a good price here, benefitting from the player’s unhappiness at not securing a summer move and Lille’s own internal turmoil. There are however question marks about his positioning at times, and he is prone to occasional lapses in concentration and rash decisions – a needless handball and penalty conceded in the Champions League last season against Trabzonspor cost Lille dear, for example.
Can he make it in the Premier League: YES
Value for money? 8/10
At just 20 years and having made only 46 Ligue 1 appearances in a fledgeling career, Franco-Senegalese left back Massadio Haidara represents more of a gamble by Newcastle United’s recruitment team. Profiting from Nancy’s shambolic season, Alan Pardew has pounced on the Lorraine’ club’s exodus to snap up a player considered by many as one of Ligue 1’s most outstanding young prospects.
A young left back who likes to dribble and push forward where possible, linking with Yohan Mollo to good effect last season, Haidara has struggled in an awful Nancy team totally devoid of all confidence this season. It would be unfair to say this has hampered his development, but he has really not shown a huge amount to be positive about this season, save for a few impressive performances.
At 5’10 Haidara is physically imposing and still growing into his body, and he does have decent technical qualities to work from. But this represents a more risky piece of business from Newcastle (although at €3.5million not a great deal more) and Haidara is by no means the finished article. One to watch.
Can he make it in the Premier League? MAYBE – will need time to adjust.
Value for money? 7/10
Moussa Sissoko was dubbed ‘the new Michael Essien’ by certain sections of the media after breaking through at Toulouse in 2008, but this fairly lazily-assigned tag is not the fairest representation of the truth.
Sure, the 23-year-old does possess the box-to-box qualities that once stood Ghana’s finest out, but Sissoko is more dynamic, more refined than a simple midfield destroyer.
For a start, defensive midfield is not Sissoko’s primary position and hasn’t been for some time. In Alain Casanova’s notoriously rigid, defensive 4-5-1 system, Sissoko was more often found in a central midfield position in front of the holding midfielder (Etienne Capoue) and allowed more creative licence to push forward into advanced areas when Toulouse attack.
Sissoko is an able dribbler and so this position suits his qualities more than the sitting midfield role of an Essien or Cheikh Tiote. He can also play down the right hand side and has done on numerous occasions, offering drive and pace, although he isn’t a natural winger by any means.
Sissoko’s real breakthrough at TFC was in 2008-9, a campaign in which he was nominated for France’s Young Player of the Year award. He showed his ability with a sensational goal in the Coupe de France (French Cup) against minor opposition, and was at one point valued at around £10-15million.
With that in mind, at €2.5million Euros, rising to €3.5m should his new club avoid relegation, Newcastle have found themselves a real bargain here.
He played 192 games in Ligue 1, scoring 20 goals, and having recently been reintegrated into the France squad by Didier Deschamps, Newcastle have a player whose tenacity and ability will naturally suit the Premier League.
A quality signing whose value could increase at least fivefold in the next few years.
Can he make it in the Premier League: YES
Value for money? 10/10
Captain of last season’s league champions Montpellier, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa arrives at St. James’ Park with a big reputation and of Newcastle’s five January signings is arguably the one most will be expected of.
Subject of a bid by AC Milan in the summer, we named Yanga-Mbiwa as one of our 10 players to watch in the Champions League 2012/13 such is his ability and potential. While Montpellier were disappointing in Europe, the 23-year-old could hold his head high (except when played as a defensive midfielder, clearly not his best position).
A primarily right-footed, right-side centre back, Yanga-Mbiwa is a defensive leader with good awareness, impressive physique and excellent recovery speed. He was a rock at the back in Montpellier’s title-winning season, putting in a number of towering performances to help MHSC make history, and his distribution and timing in the tackle are often first rate.
If there is a criticism of Yanga-Mbiwa it is that he does try to leap in to intercept passes too often at times, charging forward when playing the waiting game would help keep the team’s defensive shape.
This has got him into trouble at times this season, but his truly superb pace along the ground and lightning recovery speed often spares him any blushes on the rare occasions he does mistime interceptions.
Another player whose heart wasn’t really in it this season, Newcastle again were quick to pounce and an €8million fee (£6.7m) for a player who could offer 10 years of service at a high level looks yet another fantastic piece of business.
Can he make it in the Premier League? YES
Value for money? 9/10
A sign of the Premier League’s undoubted global appeal, Bordeaux striker Yoan Gouffran had just a few thousand followers on Twitter before he announced his move on the social network on January 22nd. In the handful of days since he has leapt up to nearly 18,000 followers, with Newcastle fans hoping he can fill the void left by Demba Ba.
In reality however, although he does have qualities of his own, Gouffran is no Demba Ba. He is a more limited player both technically and in terms of natural goalscoring ability, and as a 26-year-old this move smacks of Newcastle missing out on choices elsewhere (Loic Remy) and opting for a capable second choice as opposed to a player wanted from day one.
Gouffran would have been out of contract in the summer so this is a move by Newcastle to add firepower in case of emergency. Gouffran is a tall target man who has certainly upped his game this season, becoming increasingly more prolific in a Bordeaux side that struggles for goals.
A decent penalty area poacher, Gouffran is good in the air and relatively quick along the ground and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the pacier, less defensively-minded Premier League.
He has 8 goals from 20 league starts this seaason – with 28 of his 57 shots on target (49%).
41 goals in 184 Ligue 1 games isn’t the best tally, but with 14 goals in 34 game last season and nearly one in two this, for €1.5million plus bonus (he cost Bordeaux more than four times that figure in 2008) Newcastle may have signed a player about to hit his peak.
Can he make it in the Premier League? Most likely, but the jury is out and it will be a challenge
Value for money? 8/10