By Tom Kelk
Newcastle United, by most accounts, have had a very good transfer window. After the disappointment of losing Demba Ba to Chelsea and then seeing Loic Remy choose QPR instead, to ‘satisfy his European ambitions, Newcastle have responded brilliantly. Within a week of missing out on Remy, 4 players have been to the squad and strengthened all the necessary areas of the pitch.
But this is not the news that has grabbed the headlines. The quality of the purchases has been overlooked by the fact that Newcastle’s shopping has all been done in France. The number of French-speaking purchases made by Newcastle is quite unprecedented at this level and this has taken many analysts off-guard.
Predominantly this is because of value for money. Mike Ashley has made it abundantly clear that every financial outlay at Newcastle must represent ‘value for money’. This includes everything from transfer fees, to wages to players’ suits. The French market represents this value for money. Newcastle have picked up 4 French internationals this winter: Gouffran, Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa and Sissoko for a reported £17m. Take recent spending as an example - Zaha will cost Manchester United a reported 15 million pounds.
That money is for a player who has never played at Premier League level. Other tired examples include Liverpool’s Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson who put Liverpool nearly £40m out of pocket. Which represents more value for money?
Many have asked why players are willing to leave Ligue 1 to join Newcastle. Yohan Cabaye left French champions, and Champions League destined Lille for Newcastle. Why? The average Ligue 1 wage is far lower than the English, or Italian and Spanish for that matter. This means that Newcastle can make an appealing offer for most Ligue 1 players. £45,000 per week has doubled many of the wages of Newcastle’s French legion and they are taxed less heavily in England. The extra benefit to these lower wages is that it sticks in Newcastle’s much publicised wage structure or ‘cap’ of £50,000 per week.
Newcastle have enjoyed a high-profile in France for a long time. This dates back to the Ginola days and continued with the likes of Laurent Robert. But over the last few years Newcastle’s profile has grown rapidly. Prospective French players look around the Newcastle changing room and see many Ligue 1 names who are highly respected in France. The club then looks like an attractive proposition and this means that Newcastle can attract a higher calibre player than they would be likely to get from the Italian or Spanish leagues.
Yohan Cabaye has spoken of the culture surrounding French football being very different to England. He expressed his surprise at the time spent by English players partying in Newcastle. Now whilst a lot of the credit for scouting the right characters must be attributed to Graham Carr, it would be fair to suggest that the attitude of French players in general is perhaps more humble and less ‘larger than life’. A side point, but still important.
Alan Pardew said that Newcastle’s much needed win against Aston Villa was because of Moussa Sissoko and few would disagree. Yohan Gouffran and Yanga-Mbiwa also endeared themselves to the Newcastle fans with battling performances in their shorter spells on the pitch. Debuchy has looked assured and dangerous in his early Newcastle career and Massadio Haïdara is highly thought of in France. And against Chelsea, they proved themselves a powerful force, led by the pace of Sissoko.
There is obviously a concern that such a large amount of French will cause disharmony within the changing room and this cannot be argued against but indications are good so far. One thing is for sure. Newcastle’s spending in France is far from over.
This article was written by Tom Kelk, you can follow him on Twitter @tomkelk. Comments below please.
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