IT’S not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. As Newcastle United peer nervously at the Premier League precipice, Alan Pardew would be forgiven for borrowing one of the most famous phrases uttered by Stone Roses front-man Ian Brown when asked to justify the Magpies’ flight to France.
Falling rapidly into relegation contention after the Reading debacle, he was well aware that a significant dose of quality needed to be injected into his ailing squad. The fact that these were all players that United had scouted extensively assuaged his fears about five more French internationals joining the Newcastle relegation fight.
Every single one of Newcastle’s five signings has come from over the Channel, and every single one of them has been playing in the French leagues. It is a remarkable way to recruit, but United were seeking to play down talk that it has been a French revolution.
Worries about the balance of the dressing room, the time they might require to integrate and what it might do to the club’s English core were met with defiant answers from Pardew.
The main thing he has asked for is good players – and on that front, the club’s transfer team have delivered.
“I don’t care if I’m honest, it doesn’t bother me,” he said of his new players’ shared nationality.
“The most important thing is good players because good players will find a way to be successful.”
Yet a few ground rules have been laid down for the new recruits.
Massadio Haïdara, Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Yoan Gouffran were all told the same thing when they signed: they must learn English, and they must always converse in that language on the pitch and in team situations.
The same will be required of Moussa Sissoko when he is introduced to his new team-mates on Monday, with at least a basic knowledge of English needed “pretty quickly”.
Pardew said: “I always do the same – I speak to my French players and say I will speak in English and they all need to learn English very quickly for their education and for the team.
“We talk in English on the pitch. French dialogue can go on among themselves, but they have to understand English and understand me. One or two of them are a bit limited and need to practise.”
As reported in The Journal last week, United’s French recruitment drive has not happened overnight.
Four years of hard work have gone into it, and Pardew admits that some of the players United have managed to poach would not have joined a few years ago.
He highlights Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who was playing Champions League football earlier in the season, as just one player who has been persuaded by the presence of a significant Gallic contingent at St James’ Park.
“It’s something we’ve had success with and, if you’ve had success, that influences French players who want to find a footing in the Premier League and a new challenge,” Pardew said.
“We are a good club for them because we have so many Frenchmen and that obviously makes it easier to settle. That probably swayed Mapou. Graham Carr doesn’t speak a word of French, so it’s amazing he’s done so well there. We have very good contacts in France and I think that’s the main reason these transfers have come about. The most important thing is good players and we think the French market is a good market.”
Time and time again, Pardew returned to the idea that nationality was not important. United’s pressing need for improvement has been answered by their efforts in the transfer market.
“There were key areas in the team which needed strengthening because the most important thing for a Premier League team is competition,” he said.
“It is not necessarily about the players who are coming in. It is about the effect they have on the players we already have, the increased level of intensity in training is already gone up with the arrival of these players, and that is what you need.
“Mapou (Yanga-Mbiwa) is a player with fantastic leadership skills, great, great potential and fantastic power and that is what this team needs. We lack a bit of power in this team and these signings will help that.
“As I say, the players that we have brought in, without giving too much away, are going to add some pace in our team, some energy and energise some of the players we have.
“We already have Cabaye back and that is probably the biggest signing we have had in the last two weeks. He looks really terrific, we look in much better shape than seven days ago and that is how it should be. We definitely needed to do what we have done.”
Facing up to the challenge of leading United out of the relegation fight, Pardew is just thankful that he has been given time and support from the board.
“Every day as manager of Newcastle United is exciting, trust me,” he said. “I’ve had another one today.
“I think it’s going to be difficult. I’ve faced this before at West Ham, I got the sack just before the window opened and was very upset as I didn’t get the chance to change what I knew needed to be changed.”