THERE are few things more toe-curling than being present at a football Press conference whenever a newly-signed player pledges unrequited love to his new employer.
Said footballer, who has only just stepped off the plane, will claim to know everything about the club’s history, players, manager and supporters, for no other reason than that information has been whispered in his ear by a PR person moments before they meet the media.
Nobody buys it. Too many try it. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, unless he was spinning us all a line at Newcastle’s snow-covered training ground, is cut from a rather different cloth.
The Frenchman might not quite be able to reel off every Jackie Milburn goal as of yet.
However, he has done his homework on the club which paid close to £7million for his services.
The 23-year-old has just arrived from a country where Newcastle United are never off Canal Plus, the television station which has the rights to show the Premier League in France.
Given this is a man whose life is totally dominated by football, Yanga-Mbiwa would not have been able to escape Newcastle United over the past 18 months even if he’d wanted to.
Think about it for a moment. If Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain or Montpellier, Yanga-Mbiwa’s now former club, had ten English players, many of them internationals, on their playing staff then the BBC and Sky would criss-cross the channel more times than your average ferry to cover them.
Incidentally, 11 French players could be at St James’ Park come this time next week, if all business is completed before the transfer window is shut, and you can add two Africans (Papiss Cissé and Cheick Tioté) whose first language is French for good measure.
So as he prepared for his new life on Tyneside, Yanga-Mbiwa was as well versed in the ways of the Toon as any foreign lad could hope to be.
He said: “From a personal point of view, I have always followed the Premier League and Newcastle when I was living in France.
“The fact there are so many French players here meant Newcastle was on television back home far more than any of the other teams.
“Newcastle has always attracted French players.
“Once one comes, it definitely sparks interest in others to come and play here.
“For example, Hatem Ben Arfa is here and now I am as well.
“Once that happens it will generate even more interest with other French players about coming the club.
“When you see that, it gives you the desire to come here, to play for Newcastle and discover the league for myself. In the French national team, with so many of our players here, we would talk about the club when we met up.
“We discussed Newcastle a lot and that helped with my decision.
“Because I have been following this league on television, I have been indirectly preparing for what was to come in terms of the football.
“I just want to get into the training as quickly as possible and get into the matches. There are no nerves from me at all.”
The club first sounded out Montpellier’s title-winning captain of last season during the summer, but it was not until the past few days when a deal, at long last, was done.
You got the impression yesterday that, while he loved playing with Montpellier and found it hard to leave, he was counting the days until this transfer became reality.
Yanga-Mbiwa added: “Signing for Newcastle is already the beginning of my dream coming true.
“I heard last year there may be some interest in me from Newcastle. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to leave Montpellier. That is the club which trained me from being a youngster.
“However, moving to Newcastle remained in the back of my mind and then this month it came through. It is a great pleasure to join this club.”
Were there any offers, such as Arsenal who did scout him?
Yanga-Mbiwa replied: “Arsenal – I don’t know about that. There were other offers, but it was Newcastle who showed the greatest interest in signing me.
“The fact there are so many French people here, and the fact the club showed their willingness to really support me and help me settle, was very important. It will be a big help for me as I get used to the Premier League.”
It can be difficult, if not next to impossible, to judge a man’s personality and character when there is a language barrier.
However, Yanga-Mbiwa is an intelligent guy. He didn’t fall back to one-word replies to his translated questions, but listened intently in French and considered his retort before giving his in-depth answer.
He managed to give a clear impression of what kind of person he is.
“I speak a little English,” he said in English before reverting back to his translator.
“The club are going to help me in terms of giving me any resource I need to learn English as quickly as possible. That will help.
“What am I interested in? Football, football and football.
“I watch football on TV, I have a great interest in football, and love watching the game. Basically, I spend all my time thinking about football.”
If that’s the case, then Yanga-Mbiwa has come to the right place.