Alan Pardew's Frenchmen follow in fashionable footsteps of Arsene Wenger
This time last year Newcastle were in deep trouble but owner Mike Ashley dug into his pockets to find bargains overseas and it has paid rich dividends
Sunday 29 December 2013
It is 29 December 2012: Olivier Giroud clips a shot that hits the Newcastle crossbar, deep in injury time at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal have already put seven past Tim Krul in the visiting goal. Newcastle United are a football club collapsing. The crushing defeat leaves them three points above the relegation zone.
Fast forward to 29 December 2013: Arsenal, now second in the Premier League, will today step out at St James' Park just six points above their hosts, who have won seven of their last nine games. Alan Pardew, the manager who endured a torrid spell after the loss at Arsenal, as he did later in the season after heavy defeats to Sunderland and Liverpool, is now contemplating a top-four bounty. "People talk about the Champions' League and there's always no mention of us," he says. "I have a wry smile when that happens. Great, write us off."
It is some turnaround. On 19 January, three weeks after the defeat to Arsenal, the club's owner Mike Ashley – in a rare foray to St James' Park – watched the team lose to Reading. The defeat, Reading's first away victory of the season, reduced the gap between Newcastle and relegation to just one point.
The reaction was dramatic. Newcastle signed five French players, two of whom were due to arrive in the summer for nothing. The expenditure, according to sources inside the club, hit £33 million. Newcastle limped to safety and Ashley, furious at failure, flew in Joe Kinnear as director of football to unsettle those in power. Derek Llambias, the managing director, resigned. Pardew refused to budge but Graham Carr, the hugely influential chief scout, offered to go too. He was talked out of it. His influence on the personnel in the team Pardew has so dramatically revived is huge.
"A lot of the French players we've introduced because of market forces," said Pardew. "Arsène Wenger's first port of call when he arrived here was the same reason, he thought he got better value.
"We have made our point within the club that we don't really want to buy any players from abroad. We want to fill up our academy with youngsters from this area and hopefully they come through. I want more British-based players but I'm certainly not going to argue with the French contingent we've got. They've been absolutely brilliant. This is a world market and maybe Arsène saw that before other managers and some other chairmen, and in that respect we owe him a bit of a debt."
Of the six players to arrive, four have starred this term: Yoan Gouffran, Loïc Rémy, Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko. Only Rémy had any experience of English football.
There is still doubt about where he will play next season (he is on a £2m season-long loan from QPR) but Pardew's backing of Yohan Cabaye, and his significance in the dressing room, cannot be underestimated. Pardew believes his captain will stay with the club in January, despite an unsettling mention of Arsenal again watching the player for whom they bid £10.8m in August – way short of Newcastle's valuation. Pardew and Wenger have been at loggerheads since the former's days at West Ham and the Cabaye affair did not help.
Recovering from that non-transfer has seen Pardew's man-motivation work well. That France are going to the World Cup is hugely significant. Newcastle have lost once since that victory. Rémy, Cabaye, Sissoko, Debuchy and Hatem Ben Arfa all have serious aspirations to play at the World Cup in Brazil next year. It has made motivation easier.
There was much clamour to spend heavily before the start of this season. Ashley refused and must feel vindicated by the current form. For Pardew there is some respite after fulfilling a third year in charge.
"I keep looking in the mirror thinking it's been about 20 years," he jokes. "I was a young man when I came here, but I've enjoyed it. Newcastle is a bit of a roller-coaster but we've had more ups than downs and I'm very pleased with where we are now and the progress the club has made. Hopefully we can go forward and keep ourselves around the top eight for the next three or four years. That would be the objective.
"I don't know if it's my club after three years but it's my team in the way I want it. We're on the front foot and we try to take the game to the opposition, whoever we play." Unlike a year ago, he can take on Arsenal with more than a little confidence.
Pardew's French fancies
Yoan Gouffran Striker has scored in his last five home games. Cost less than £1 million. Hit
Moussa Sissoko Has rediscovered early form. Rampaging midfielder. Hit
Mathieu Debuchy Slow start but one of the most effective right-backs in the Premier League. Hit
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa Central defender struggled at first with physicality of English football. Has improved. Jury out
Massadio Haïdara Young left-back bought for the future. Minimal role so far. Jury out
Loïc Rémy Ten goals for the striker since season-long loan move from QPR. Hit
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