Yoan Gouffran on what it’s like to get up close with Alan Pardew - Newcastle’s excitable manager
While the United boss has to stay away again, his ‘workaholic’ midfielder will keep calm and carry on, as ever
The first push, almost immediately forgotten, came from David Meyler.
The reaction from the Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew, leading with his head towards the Hull City midfielder, will be an enduring image of the current season for years to come. There was a brief movement to make peace from Howard Webb, the fourth official at the KC Stadium that day. It did not calm the fury of Meyler, a player who spent five years at Sunderland. At that point, one man stepped forward to keep an irate player away from his manager.
First Yoan Gouffran had to grab the arm of Meyler, then there was an emphatic push, to establish boundaries. By that mostly overlooked act, Pardew was spared a far worse fate. That has been Gouffran’s way ever since he moved to England 15 months ago – doing right by his manager.
“Of course it is a very good relationship I have with him,” the Frenchman says. “He has trusted in me as a player since I first came to the club. He has believed in me and I believe in him.
“He changed my position. I was hesitant at the start when he first did that, but it has worked. I work hard for him. When I worked my way into the team I scored a few goals and all I continue to do is to work hard, play each game as if it were my life and give everything I can.”
There was no fanfare when Gouffran moved to Tyneside in January last year. He was one of five Frenchmen to do so, and his stardust remained well hidden, as did the pedigree. Attention instead focused on Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, established internationals for France. Gouffran cost around £700,000; he was considered a squad man. It did not quite stack up with his achievements in France.
At 21, five years before he eventually arrived, there had been talks about a move to England. “Yes, I was excited,” he adds. “It was Arsenal. I remember it well. I was a lot younger then, 20 or 21. I didn’t know if it would happen. My name was being mentioned with Arsenal and I was playing for Caen. The discussions were quite lengthy, they were taking a long time, and then it did not happen.”
Gouffran scored 25 goals in two seasons as he waited. Instead, he moved to Bordeaux for €6.5m. He had just turned 22. “I was 14 when I joined Caen,” he says. “My dream was always to be a footballer. It was a really important club for me. They were my first club. They took me away from where I was, in Paris. They gave me my first start when I was 17. That was a really big thing for me. I had a great few years playing there and even today it is a club that is still important.”
On the final day of his first season at Bordeaux, in May 2009, he returned to Caen. Victory would give his new club their first Ligue 1 title in a decade. It would also relegate the club who gave him a career.
“It was a really, really special match for me and a really difficult one. It was the first time I had been back to Caen. We were top of the league but we had to win to win the title. I had butterflies in the changing rooms before the match. I went through a lot of emotions. Then I scored the winning goal.
“Obviously, I was ecstatic but I had so many friends who were still playing there and the goal relegated them to the second tier of football in France. I held back and did not celebrate the goal. Only when I went into the changing room could I enjoy it.”
In his final 18 months at Stade Chaban-Delmas, Gouffran scored 26 goals. He had resisted the overtures from the club president to sign a new deal. There were less than six months left on his contract at Bordeaux when Fulham and Newcastle came calling.
“I loved playing for Bordeaux, but there was a part of me that wanted to play in the Premier League. The president at the club was forcing me to stay and sign a new deal. I know it is risky to run down your contract, with the risk of injury. I continued to work hard and play hard for Bordeaux. Also, we had played against Newcastle already in the Europa League. When we played here for Bordeaux I loved it, the atmosphere was fantastic and I wanted to come here and play at St James’ Park. Yohan Cabaye had talked to me a little about it here and Charles N’Zogbia, who is a good friend of mine, had talked to me about it and only said good things.
“I did score quite a lot of goals in my last two seasons in Bordeaux. I was at the end of my contract; perhaps Newcastle did get a bargain when you look at my goals ratio compared to how much they paid. It wasn’t too expensive for them.”
In England, he was moved to the left side of midfield. He had tests done on the muscle mass in his legs on his arrival. He was substituted in his first four games. He has admitted the physical demands have caused severe cramps, but he has emerged as the hardest-working member of Pardew’s team. He took on extra fitness work. The cramps have disappeared.
In Newcastle’s final away game last season, with the side down to 10 men, he scored the winning goal that kept Newcastle in the Premier League. Managers do not forget things like that.
His form this season has relegated Hatem Ben Arfa to a bit-part player. He scored in five successive home games –the fifth in a 5-1 victory at home to Stoke that lifted the club to sixth place – equalling a feat of Alan Shearer. During the run that followed, when Newcastle won once out of nine games, Gouffran spoke of his feeling of shame.
“Even without knowing the whole history of the club, if you lose at home, at St James’ Park, there is a feeling of shame. After the Tottenham game I felt I was ashamed, so I said so. You cannot lose in that manner.”
The Newcastle assistant manager, John Carver, sits flanked by Gouffran and Paul Dummett, the young Geordie full-back, in a room at the club’s training ground during a Barclays event with grass-roots coaches that ends in a revealing question-and-answer session. “Some players are energy-sappers,” says Carver when asked about different attitudes to training. “But we have to tell Gouff to come off the training ground; he’s a workaholic.”
Today, for the second game, Carver’s voice will be the highest in the chain of command for Gouffran and his team-mates. Pardew will be absent from the stadium in which his team is playing, because of his suspension following that clash with Meyler. Today against Crystal Palace will be bigger than last week at Fulham because it is at St James’ Park; Pardew will sit in a room at the training ground, four miles away, watching a live feed of the game.
“Last week was a strange match,” Gouffran says. “Before we went to the ground, the manager gave us a team talk in the hotel. He told us there was still a lot to play for this season, that we must fight for a European place.
“To be honest, we prepared for it all week. We knew the manager would be banned from the stadium. It was slightly different but we were ready. We have been here for a year, we know the coach. We are used to the manager and his style, but he wasn’t there; you have to adapt to the situation, that is what football is all about.”
Adapting to the situation. It is one of Gouffran's strengths, as Pardew will testify.
My other life: A table tennis star
They used to be huge on darts at Newcastle. Now, the first-team squad compete regularly inside the club’s training ground at table tennis. “Yeah, I play a lot,” says Gouffran. “Am I good? Yeah, I’m the best at the club, along with Davide Santon. What do I do outside of football? I play table tennis and look after my son, because he takes up a lot of my time.”
Yoan Gouffran was speaking at a Barclays community event. This season Barclays is thanking fans, community heroes, players and managers for making the game what it is. Join the conversation using #YouAreFootball
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