French influx should bring fluent football to St James' Park

NEWCASTLE United’s January spending spree is proof of two things.

NEWCASTLE United’s January spending spree is proof of two things.

First up, by signing – or attempting to sign – four players better noted for their technique and ability on the ball, the club is determined to get back to playing the fluent football that typified their Spring surge towards the top four.

And secondly – and perhaps just as crucially – it is a major vote of confidence in misfiring striker Papiss Cissé.

United had already completed an impressive piece of business in recruiting Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to bolster their creaking defence, but it is the arrival of Yoan Gouffran, who has now joined his countryman at St James’ Park, that is really intriguing.

The Bordeaux forward is not your average old-fashioned Premier League goal-grabber.

He is no Demba Ba or Andy Carroll, and certainly not a like-for-like replacement for the former. Instead he plays in behind a main striker – and mainly drifting to the right of him.

In short, he has been bought not just for his own talent but also to supplement Cissé, who has looked uncomfortable in his second season in the Premier League.

Partly that is because Ba was promoted to the main striking role for the first months of this season.

Having expressed displeasure at being shunted to the left as Cissé reigned supreme, Alan Pardew decided to reconfigure his side and it returned Ba to the goals.

It left Cissé sidelined – sometimes literally as his compatriot embarked on the kind of hot streak seldom seen in the Premier League.

Cissé’s confidence suffered and on the Saturday just gone, we saw a striker in desperate need of catching a break as chance after chance went begging against Reading.

Gouffran’s signature could just be that break. He is a willing runner and an intelligent player who first caught United’s eye when he was playing for Caen. United feel he is no cheap option, despite his bargain price.

Instead he is a sign that they are willing to boost last January’s biggest investment, and hopefully nurse him back to the kind of form that had the entire Premier League purring a year ago.

With this latest phase of the recruitment drive, United also feel they have recruited ball-playing pedigree.

“Proper footballers,” is how one observer described them – and Magpies manager Pardew now knows he has the tools at his disposal to return United to the kind of football team that they were at the start of last year.

If they get Moussa Sissoko, and it is looking pretty good on that front, we might go back to the original idea that Newcastle had two summers ago of having two midfield enforcers protecting a forward-thinking engine room agitator.

They had originally looked at Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi to play that role, but now they have an even better player in their sights in the France international.

If signed, Sissoko could play alongside Cheick Tioté, with Yohan Cabaye given the licence to support attacking duo Hatem Ben Arfa and Cissé in a team that could probe in between the lines. Gouffran will be in the mix too, with the benefit being that United have plenty of offensive options with their new recruits.

That is the theory anyway – putting it into practice on a cold, wet Tuesday at Villa Park might be another thing entirely.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer