Les Toon Army – How the French influx of players are adapting to life in Toon

Throughout the summer transfer window there was a great deal of British media coverage surrounding Newcastle United. A lot of this stemmed from the last minute £35 million departure of Andy Carroll in the January transfer window, and which marquee signing this cash would be lavishly splashed on. There was also a lot of coverage in France too, with Newcastle seemingly linked with at least 1 player from each club in Ligue 1. This hadn’t been picked up on by the British media too much, until the season got underway and Newcastle began to put together an incredible start to the Premiership season with their new French foreign legion.

What Newcastle have done over the summer isn’t anything new, Arsene Wenger has used France among other countries for years as a farm for picking talented young players. Arsenal have regularly brought in young, cheap, relatively ‘unknown’ players, on a sensible wage structure then developed and shaped them into international superstars and then sold them on for a large profit (although what success this has brought them recently is obviously up for debate). This would appear to be the same approach that Newcastle and Mike Ashley have finally settled on in the transfer market, and I’m sure Mike Ashley along with most Newcastle fans would be more than happy for a few ‘Arsenal’ type seasons over the next few years, with the dream of Champions League football a very distant one at present for the Toon Army.

Newcastle also have a wealth of recent history with French players, with a number of their best (and sometimes most temperamental) stars descending from Gallic soil. David Ginola, Laurent Robert, Didier Domi, Olivier Bernard, Alain Goma, Louis Saha, Frank Dumas, Laurent Charvet, Stephane Guivarc’h, Sylvain Distin, Charles N’Zogbia and  Lionel Perez have all been in toon over the last 15 years or so.

The first player to focus on is certainly not an unknown or inexperienced player, but the signing of Yohanne Cabaye was certainly one of the more surprising signings of the summer given that he gave up Champions League football with the Championat winning Lille team to join the Geordies. For anyone who had seen Cabaye in previous seasons, his excellent start to life in the Premiership will not be a surprise. He has continued the form that saw him become one of Lille’s most consistent performers last season along with Mickael Landreau and Eden Hazard. Although Cabaye and his central midfield partner, Cheik Tiote, did not have a real pre-season together, as a rather dubious dental bill dispute prevented Cabaye from travelling with the NUFC squad to the USA, from the first game of the season Cabaye fitted perfectly into the team. His ability to win the ball back in midfield, as well as carve out inch-perfect passes ensured he had the Geordie faithful on his side. Unlike some ‘continental’ players who have graced the British shores, Cabaye is not one to shirk a challenge either, immediately tangling with Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole in a battling away win in NUFC’s second game of the season at neighbours Sunderland. During some of the games, Cabaye has had to play in more of a defensive role, and although he performed well, his creativity was missed. After Newcastle settled on a 4-4-2 formation (having toyed with 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1 earlier in the season), Cabaye again found his feet, and his shooting boots, coming close with a number of chances against Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers and has consistently delivered quality set-pieces having taken the role from the now departed Joey Barton. Yohanne Cabaye along with his central midfield partner Cheik Tiote provide Newcastle with a formidable and experienced central midfield and will undoubtedly be key to ensuring that Newcastle look to improve on last season’s mid-table finish.

Games: 7, Goals: 0, Assists: 1, Shots: 13, On target: 6 

Gabriel Obertan has made an indifferent start to life as a Newcastle player having signed from Manchester United. Coming off the bench in the season’s opener against Arsenal, he has shown the ability to run at defenders and deliver quality balls from the by-line, however, he has also shown a reluctance to do this at times and has occasionally shown a lack of positioning discipline leaving right-back Danny Simpson exposed to attacks from opposition wingers. Some of these negatives, may be as a result of adjusting to life in a new squad and trying to establish some confidence as a first team player, something that might arguably have been knocked through only making 28 appearances in 2 seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson. If Obertan can continue to use his attacking skills, he will continue to be backed by the Newcastle fans who love a player who can run at defenders in an attempt to create chances.

Games: 6, Sub: 1, Goals: 0, Assists: 0, Shots: 1, On target: 0

Sylvain Marveux signed for Newcastle from Stade Rennais, having reportedly failed to agree personal terms with Liverpool (while it was also reported that he had failed a medical with the Merseyside club). Since joining in the summer, Marveaux has been used as a fringe player, being used in both the League cup wins against Scunthorpe United and Nottingham Forrest and as occasional substitute in Premiership games. Throughout these games Marveaux has demonstrated pace and an ability to take on players and pick out passes, often clinging to the wing when he has played. Marveaux has also appeared for the Newcastle United ‘development’ squad scoring twice in a recent 3-0 win against Bolton.  Although Marveaux doesn’t appear to be guaranteed first team football for the Toon at the minute, he does provide healthy competition and possible offensive cover for Jonas Gutierrrez and fellow Frenchman Gabriel Obertan.

Games: 0, Sub: 4, Goals: 0, Assists: 0, Shots: 1, On target: 0

At the age of 19, Mehdi Abeid, would appear to be ‘one for the future’ for NUFC fans, having signed from Racing Club Lens. He has made one first team appearance, starting alongside Marveaux in the League Cup win away against Nottingham Forrest. Throughout this game, he demonstrated some good touches of the ball and good understanding of his team mates, adopting a ‘holding midfielder’ type role. He has also endeared himself to a number of the locals, after being spotted  post-match walking past The Strawberry pub, he kindly responded to the ‘Abeid, give us a wave’ chants. Rumours that he then popped in for a bottle of Brown Ale, have yet to be confirmed though.

Games: 1 cup, Goals: 0, Assists: 0, Shots: 1, On target: 1

Having left France and Olympique Marseille under a bit of a cloud, reportedly refusing to train or play in order to push through a move to Newcastle United, the air is hopefully beginning to clear on Hatem Ben Arfa’s career on Tyneside. Ben Arfa made a positive start at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season and he demonstrated his class in a squad that was finding its feet back in the Premiership. Although he changed positions in each of the games, playing as a wide midfielder and support striker, he netted a superb long distance goal away against Everton. Unfortunately in Newcastle’s next away game, Ben Arfa was subject to a horrific tackle by Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong, which left Ben Arfa with a broken Tibia and Fibula and he didn’t play again that season for the magpies. The only shining light in the season, was Ben Arfa’s performances and the fact that he made his move to Tyneside permanent during the January transfer window. Continuing his road to recovery through the tail end of the 2010-2011 season, Ben Arfa began pre-season training at full strength with the Newcastle squad, travelling with them to the United States. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle in a friendly game against Sporting Kansas City and missed the start of the 2011-2012 fixtures. His first game of the season came in the League Cup game against Nottingham Forrest where he performed well, even helping to set up one of the Newcastle goals. He then came off the bench for a cameo role against Blackburn Rovers to a rapturous applause. He performed well in a game that was already won by the time he was introduced, but he did help create a number of chances for team mates. I get the feeling that there will be many more highs and undoubtedly some lows during Ben Arfa’s future in black and white stripes.

Games: 0, Sub: 1, Goals: 0, Assists: 0, Shots: 1, On target: 0

Although not the marquee signing most fans were perhaps hoping for, Demba Ba, certainly brings bags of quality with him to the North-East. Many magpies’ fans were looking forward to seeing Ba in a Newcastle shirt, after his impressive 7 goals in 12 league games for West Ham United last season. Unfortunately Ba made a less than glowing start to his career on Tyneside with slow and sluggish performances where he looked off the pace, resulting in no goals in his first 5 games. Much of this was blamed on his observance of the Islamic festival Ramadan, although the actual impact on sporting athletes performances during the month of Ramadan has been widely debated. Either way, once Ramadan was over Ba has looked like a different player. He has gained an extra yard of pace, an extra few pounds of strength and a sharper eye for goal all of which resulted in his well taken hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers at St James’ Park. In the next game, Ba continued this form helping Newcastle on their way to a win over Wolves, striding in at the front post to beat a Wolves defender from a Yohanne Cabaye corner. Much of Newcastle’s success this season may rely on Ba’s ability to score goals and also create opportunities for strike partner Leon Best.

Games: 5, Sub: 2, Goals: 4, Assists: 1, Shots: 14, On target: 6

At the start of this international break Newcastle sit 4th in the Premiership just behind Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, and are well clear in the form guide (when considering points gained from the same fixtures last season). Newcastle managed well in their first season back in the Premiership last year and much of this was put down to the squad morale, as opposed to quality of personnel. However, after losing the majority of the ‘senior’ squad, of which most of this spirit was attributed to, Newcastle were once again highlighted as one of the teams likely to be fighting for survival come the end of this season. Will Newcastle’s transfer policy and squad strategy work? It certainly seems to have so far, with very few issues regarding players ‘bedding in’, little risk of quite so many language barriers and little evidence thus far of any ‘cliques’ as have been suggested in other Premier league squads. As a French football follower, I am enjoying watching former French based players adapting so well to life in ‘the best league in the world’, and as a Newcastle United fan I’m enjoying the success that they have helped bring thus far to my much maligned club. Long may the French Revolution continue on Tyneside!

Swanny (@OMarseilleUK & @Andrew_Js3)

Allez l’OM!. Howey the lads!

1 thought on “Les Toon Army – How the French influx of players are adapting to life in Toon

  1. norm laidlaw from Canada

    We will all very soon find out just how good our team is when we play some of the top teams in the Premier.No disrespect to the likes of Blackburn Fulham Wolves, but these clubs are not top 6 lets see how we perform against Spurs Chelsea Man U Man C and dare I say it Liverpool before we start talking about Europe.

    My prediction is we finish just above half way.


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