Today it is Roma. Last week it was Manchester United. Before that it was Paris St Germain and Monaco. Last summer it was Tottenham. No wonder Newcastle supporters regular burst into song when they win a corner (they never score from them) to sing the name of Yohan Cabaye.
In it, they urge Mike Ashley not to sell Cabaye, warning there will be a riot if he does.
The signs are now that, if any club actually firms up the plethora of reported interest in Cabaye, then a sizeable, and certainly vocal, section of support, would leave their rioting gear in the garden shed. The tide turns fast on Tyneside. Cabaye, after an indifferent couple of months, is a commodity to be cashed in on. And it is really a couple of months.
That Newcastle could afford Cabaye in the first place was down to clever strategy, discovering a clause in the midfielder's contract that would be activated if an offer of €5 million was tabled to Lille, where he had just helped the club he had played at since he was a boy win the Ligue One title and the French Cup (56 years after they had last won a trophy). It was an historic moment. Cabaye wanted a new challenge and last season, at the heart of a Newcastle side brimming with confidence, he excelled, a central midfielder with vision, the ability to control a game, an eye for a goal and a streak to make a tackle. There are a multitude of reasons as to why the North-east's big two have done so little for so long but the lack of genuine quality in the heart of a team has been a key factor. Newcastle had Cabaye. He scored four goals. He made six goals. He made Newcastle tick. He played his way into the France national side for the European Championships. He came into the new season. He has admitted since to feeling fatigued, and that can happen. He also spoke of feeling depressed, and that was perhaps the first true insight into the complexity of his character. Good players can be temperamental. It happens.
But even given that situation, three of a pretty slim highlight reel for travelling Newcastle fans came from the boot of Cabaye. His goal at Sunderland would probably have won the Tyne-Wear derby at the Stadium of Light but for the impetuosity of Cheick Tiote. His goal at Liverpool was perhaps the best from a Newcastle player this season. The 25-yard strike at Aston Villa suggested a new dawn was on its way in January. Cabaye ended the season with six goals (two more came against Southampton and Stoke, victories whose importance could only be measured when the campaign had finished). He also set up four goals. It was a dire season for Newcastle, but Cabaye's output was not.
He looked demoralised when withdrawn at West Bromwich Albion in April but by then Newcastle's position was perilous, and the football had become more direct. If there is a problem it is in strategy. Cabaye expects the team he plays in to pass the ball more and he does not expect to get stuffed by Manchester City, Sunderland and Liverpool within the space of four weekends. He was annoyed and he said so. I'm not really sure there is much wrong in that. There were not too many Newcastle fans around that period overjoyed with life. His body language in those games should have been better, but for Cabaye there was an expectation the club would move up a level after the exploits of finishing fifth in the Premier League the previous season, not move down two.
Newcastle must now ready themselves for a fight to hold onto one of their two most talented players (the other is Hatem Ben Arfa), and that, thankfully, is their standpoint. A figure of £30m has been mentioned and it should give some signal of their intent. Strangely, it does not appear to be one back up from those on the terraces.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Ashley has been to change the psyche of Newcastle's supporters. They still worship individual players at St James' Park but it feels more like a holiday romance. Demba Ba had not left in January and Loic Remy was being touted as a far superior player (Newcastle thought they were close to signing the striker who took a more lucrative contract to move to Queens Park Rangers). Most of those had barely seen Remy play. Ba had scored 29 goals for Newcastle in 54 Premier League starts. He was forgotten before he had even left. The former Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan had to famously stand on the steps outside of the Milburn Stand and argue with Newcastle supporters about why he had given the green light to sell Andy Cole. Heroes used to mean a bit more in those days.
Now Cabaye can go from flavour of the month to expendable in the blink of an eye.
It is a culture that needs addressing. Clubs who continually sell their best players rarely enjoy success. Newcastle fans really should know that.
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