The Agenda: Mike Ashley must heed calls for reinforcements

France has more to offer Newcastle United in next month's transfer window argues Chief Sports Writer Mark Douglas

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images Yoan Gouffran of Newcastle United
Yoan Gouffran of Newcastle United

It's official: France is en vogue again at St James’ Park.

The abrupt end of Newcastle United’s hot streak in arctic South Wales might have been desperately disappointing but it has not wiped out the advances made over the Magpies’ marvellous November. If they dip into the transfer market in the New Year, the smart money is on the recruit coming from across the Channel.

It is all a far cry from the weeks since the summer transfer window snapped shut, when one cross-Channel agent reported a distinct cooling of attitudes towards potential Gallic recruits. Of course United chased Bafetimbi Gomis and Florian Thauvin in a mad and ultimately fruitless dash to strengthen their squad, but most of the talk had been of importing a dash of Premier League know-how.

Alan Pardew even went public on that, speaking to Sky’s Goals on Sunday in October about a need to bring in domestic talent.

To borrow a phrase from political parlance: that was then, this is now. The performances of Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko and particularly Yoan Gouffran have encouraged the feeling that France still has more to offer the club after a November run which dimmed talk that they are not mentally strong enough for the Premier League.

Anyone who has seen the fast-track progress of Debuchy in the last three months would testify to that. United have always thought the right-back to be the next best thing to Spain’s exciting Dani Alves: an attacking defender with the strength and athleticism to add a lethal edge to their counter-attacks.

For the first few months, he looked in need of some re-wiring. The speed and physicality of the top flight ushered him into mistakes and his desperation to try and replicate the attacking game that had first brought him to United’s attention was leading to game-changing errors.

It didn’t help that Yohan Cabaye’s head was turned by the attention of Arsenal, with the Gunners’ bid and the midfielder’s subsequent absence from the team preceding some of Debuchy’s lowest moments.

The healthy nature of his response, more than anything else he has done since being on Tyneside, should convince us that he is here to stay. And that is before we consider Gouffran, who looks more like a British workaholic striker than some of the Premier League stars that Newcastle have considered in recent months. Shane Long looks a very good player but he would cost considerably more than Gouffran on the open market.

And that is the problem that Newcastle have encountered. The British market remains incredibly difficult to crack, despite the millions that have flooded into the top flight after the Sky TV deal.

So Newcastle might turn back to France, heartened that whatever the problems the club has encountered in the first months of the season they are little to do with a wholesale influx of Gallic talent. Indeed they have been heartened by indications from Loic Remy that he might feel as if he owes it to Newcastle to listen to what they are planning to offer him to make his loan move permanent.

At this stage the next man through the door (if any come) is unlikely to be Gomis, though. Despite the striker leaving some very flattering messages on social media after the defeat of West Brom, there has been little sign that the personal terms requested by him and his representatives have deflated in the months since his move to Tyneside was aborted.

Never say never, of course, but Newcastle are set to look elsewhere after zig-zagging the Continent in the last few months.

If Wednesday night proved anything, it is that the terminal dawdling of the summer window must not be repeated. Newcastle have improved options after the French resurgence but they are nowhere near strong enough to lose two players of the calibre of Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse and still boast strength from the bench.

At Swansea, Ben Arfa and Cisse suffered late problems that ruled them out of the game. It was ironic that the misfortune befell them on a night when Newcastle could well have done with the change in emphasis that either would have provided in the second half.

That is why Ashley must heed calls for reinforcements in January and why United cannot afford to rest on their laurels. The most open Premier League in years has created an opportunity and we will discover a lot about Ashley’s intentions for the club over the next 31 days.

Just don’t expect Joe Kinnear to be going anywhere soon either. One of Ashley’s priorities over the last few weeks has been to shore up Kinnear’s authority and reinforce his position, even going as far as reminding Pardew that he must work with the director of football in the coming transfer window.

Lately, Kinnear’s nebulous role has been focused mainly on scouting opposition. He has headed to Belgium to run the rule over players but just lately his trips have been closer to home, with Ashley keen for him to work closer with Pardew in the coming months.

Quite why the owner feels such an alliance to him is still unclear, but the process of normalisation that began with halting his public pronouncements has progressed to a concise programme column that looks suspiciously like it has been ghost written.

For all that the mood changed during a wonderful November, some things remain – depressingly - the same.


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