Habib Beye: The future's bright, it's mangoes

Newcastle's Senegalese is a natural leader who has seen it all before, and he firmly believes Shearer's efforts can bear fruit. Michael Walker speaks to Habib Beye
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The Independent Online

When the first six minutes and 11 seconds of an interview are spent discussing the taste and variety of mangoes in Senegal, you know it's not going to be the average clichéd football conversation. Like every other Newcastle United employee, Habib Beye has much to concern him, not least a relegation derby against Middlesbrough tomorrow night, so a detour into mangoes could be considered deliberate idiosyncracy. But it was not, Beye is simply passionate about his subject. Thirty more minutes in his company, via Alan Shearer, a website named Beyewatch and "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles, you discover Beye is pretty passionate full stop.

This is a 31-year-old Senegalese Frenchman who has been at Newcastle for 20 months. Yet Beye talks like a club captain. His having held the armband at Marseille, an equally tempestuous club, is perhaps one explanation. Another would be that in Beye Newcastle possess a character the dressing room is not crammed with. The following flowing answer is Beye on Shearer's return. He did not know Shearer intimately but having played against the No 9 at St James' Park in the semi-final of the 2004 Uefa Cup, he understands Shearer's status.

"I remember I swapped my shirt with him but he doesn't remember," he said of his manager. "I have his shirt at home but I think he maybe put mine in the bin. I kept his because I thought if one day I lose my money, I could sell his on eBay."

The Beye smile soon gave way. He was serious now. "The most important thing for me is that Alan Shearer didn't come for the glory," he said. "He had the job on TV. If he didn't believe, he would have stayed on TV. I did not know him really well, but I saw him the first time and I knew he was not coming to save the club and to be the hero. He already is a hero. He doesn't need to do this to be a hero. It won't change.

"If you are in the bottom three, it's for some reason. He came in and said we needed to change some things. It's not that before everybody was late, they weren't, it's just about respect. Everybody being on time does not mean we will win games, but it's about respect. He didn't click his fingers, he just said that he wanted to change some things. He wants us to enjoy our work. It's not like he's the police.

"I think if he keeps the club in the Premier League and he has enough power and resources to bring something to the club, he will do it [stay]. I see him in training and he is happy to be here. It's not like, 'Ah, just three more games', he's really happy to be here. I hope, and I believe, he will bring something next season."

Talk or time-keeping, as Beye said, does not win matches, but this is the strength of opinion required in the days building to a climactic encounter. Beye has the certainty of a believer and every Newcastle fan will be encouraged by his view of their club.

"Newcastle is not a bad club," he said, "Newcastle is a big club. We have the quality to be in the top six, top seven. When I see Everton, I don't see a team better than Newcastle, I see one more confident and with stability. I believe we will stay up and the manager will stay and he will bring this type of stability.

"Instability? At Marseille if you have two bad results, whoosh, they change the manager. That is instability. Here it's not been the chairman just sacking managers, this season we've had bad luck, a manager who was ill, injuries.

"But when you start to go down and when you change manager and then you change manager again, people say, 'Oh, come on'. You get tired. The confidence goes and when it is low it's hard to get back up. When you have confidence, like Michael Essien, the ball goes in the top corner. When people ask me about Newcastle, I say: 'For sure, this is a massive club.' But confidence. That is why I think if we can get out of this, we can breathe. Then next season the manager, if he stays, he will say, 'Come on boys'."

An insinuation this week was that in the wake of the Joey Barton episode at Anfield, Shearer's increased discipline was affecting the atmosphere. Beye disagreed. It is about togetherness.

"I think everybody is happy with the training. You look at Barcelona, they are the best example. They were under pressure for 90 minutes at Chelsea and didn't even have a shot, but in 93 minutes they score. This cannot happen if you are not together. If players are selfish, if [Samuel] Eto'o says he is the best striker in the world, this can't happen."

Beye was signed by Sam Allardyce three Newcastle managers ago. After the three games that will decide Newcastle's fate, Boro and Fulham at home and a last-day trip to Aston Villa, Beye will have one year remaining on his contract. He is minded to sign an extension – "If the club wants to keep me, we will talk together in a good way" – but there is uncertainty to be overcome first.

While at Marseille he played in that 2004 Uefa Cup final, having eliminated Newcastle, with a team that included Fabien Barthez, Mathieu Flamini and Didier Drogba. With Senegal, Beye was a squad member when the 2002 World Cup quarter-final was reached. Valencia and Turkey were the respective opponents then but Beye says Middlesbrough tomorrow rates equally in significance. "Of course. Middlesbrough is not Chelsea or Manchester United but it's the most important game we have this season. We cannot afford to lose.

"Everybody here must realise it will be the most important game for this club. If Newcastle go down, and I don't believe we will, it will be a problem for everybody here. It's not good for you. I went down with Strasbourg when I was young and I thought, 'Somebody will buy me'. But I ended up staying and played in the Second Division. It's not easy. Everybody here must understand that it's not about your contract, it's about the club. Now is not about anyone's personal priorities, it's about the club."

Then, he said, everyone can have a holiday. One week of his is already planned. Paris-born, it will be a trip to his father's native Senegal. For the mangoes.

Beye has set up a trading company called Mangoes For Goalposts – "because here you say jumpers for goalposts". The aim is not simply import-export, it is to make a profit that can be channelled into an academy in Senegal. Failing that, short-term soccer schools will be created.

"I realised that when you go to a shop in England and you just want to buy a mango, it is really expensive. Not like a pineapple or an apple or oranges. I said, 'Why?' I realised they are from South America and I tasted it and it's not really good. It's good, but it's not like Senegal."

It should come as no surprise that this is the sort of man who inspires affection. Beyewatch.co.uk is a website dedicated to him. Newcastle fans sing the theme tune of Happy Days to Beye's name but there are many more songs. "'Yellow Submarine' – 'No 1 is Habib Beye', that's my favourite," he said.

Habib Beye is a different man. Who else can say: "When we get out of this situation at Newcastle I will be able to concentrate on mangoes."

Beyewatch songs

To the tune of 'Yesterday' by the Beatles

"Habib Beye, the best full-back in the league today, I'm so glad you chose to leave Marseilles, Oh I believe in Habib Beye"

To the tune of 'Get Back' by the Beatles

"Habib is a man who is a great defender, no attacker can get past. Habib left his home in Marsailles a la Français, he now plays on the Geordie grass. Right back! Right back! Right back is where Habib belongs"

To the tune of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen

"Is this Habib Beye? Or is this just fantasy? Caught in a poor team, No escape to a victory, Open your eyes, Sack Dennis Wise and see, We're just a poor team, Beye needs some quality, Because he's left-footed, right-footed, With a pen, with his head, Any way the Beye scores, doesn't really matter to me, To me"