I'm not sure what the French word for “relieved” is, but I'm pretty sure Alan Pardew does. After an almighty mess of a season reached an unthinkable low point with a 1-2 home defeat to Reading, the Newcastle boss finally convinced his frugal chairman to part with the £17million required to add the necessary depth, quality and optimism to a side that hadn't just failed to live up to their billing as top six contenders, but were liable under the trade descriptions act for it.
The acquisitions of Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mouassa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, and Massadio Haidara were all notable for the fact they came from the same aisle of the footballer supermarket we call the transfer window. That's the same aisle as the baguettes and pungent cheese, in case you're wondering.
Ligue 1 is proving a successful shopping centre for Newcastle. Last season's biggest acquisition, Yohan Cabaye, arrived for a paltry £4million and quickly established himself as one of the best central midfielders in the entire Premier League; he'd cost five or six times that much if they elected to allow him to leave. As would the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa, who after initially arriving on loan was made a full member of the squad for a similar fee. Many clubs are now adopting the model of buying relatively inexpensive talent and allowing their burgeoning abilities to blossom, but while the likes of Liverpool and Aston Villa haven't quite got it to click yet, Newcastle have turned it into something of an art form.
As such, much credit has been heaped on both the club's recruitment policy and the work of their chief scout, Graham Carr. Fans have been turning up to games in berets with giant cloves of garlic around their necks as the clubs association with France becomes a key part of its identity. But the real key to Newcastle's transfer policy isn't that they've been shopping in France, it's that they haven't been shopping in England.
For the same money that brought five frenchmen - three of whom are international players - to the club, Newcastle could have bought Wilfred Zaha, a highly-rated 20-year-old who's yet to kick a ball outside of the second tier. While I'm sure Manchester United will argue that his purchase is a long-term investment, the inflation of the fee is explained almost completely by his solitary England cap. The premium on home-grown talent has swelled to such comical levels that the market itself is now completely toxic.
Jordan Henderson emerged from Sunderland as a classy but wildly inconsistent central midfielder, about three years away from being the finished article. Liverpool parted with £20million for him. Theo Walcott wasn't even allowed to cross the road unsupervised in 2006. Arsenal decided to shell out just under £10million for him. Andy Carroll found a great run of form for a few months and... well, you all know what happened there.
Our national obsession with finding the next English icon has poisoned the watering hole. Instead of being allowed to develop their game naturally, any exciting prospect is plucked from their club years too early, burdened with immense expectation and scrutiny, then expected to drag us kicking and screaming through the next major tournament. Their prices reflect expectation rather than actual achievement.
Sissoko (left) has impressed on Tyneside.
Undoubtably the best value of all Newcastle's purchases this winter was Moussa Sissoko. A full international who posses fantastic technique, the brains of eight lions and and the energy of ten. Watching him go head-to-toe with Barry Bannan on his debut was, as one journalist put it, "like watching a chimney sweep against a Harlem Globetrotter". He cost just two million quid.
He wasn't signed from FC Moon Orbiting Pluto either. He came straight from the closest major league to ours geographically, and has been talked about across world football for a number of seasons. Newcastle are due all sorts of credit for bringing in these players, but the notion that they're somehow unearthing them out of nowhere is ludicrous. Cabaye, Yanga-Mbiwa and Debuchy arrived from the last two champions of France; Tiote and Anita arrived from the last two champions of Holland; David Santon was prized away from Inter Milan; Pappis Cisse was Freiburg's record goalscorer.
In the space of two games, Newcastle have gone from serious contenders for the drop to a team who look better oiled than an F1 car, and aren't quite sure why they gave the rest of the league a five-month head-start. It's a transformation that's been done on a sane budget and within the bounds of an already successful recruitment policy. With the entire financial structure of the game coming under the microscope now, we could soon be saying au revoir to clubs who don't follow suit.
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