A mercurial French talent is desperate to move but his club stick stubbornly to their valuation for him.
In a theatrical attempt to force through the transfer he goes on strike - a move that is met by exasperation at his current club. Newcastle United’s supporters wait with bated breath for the resolution of a saga that could make or break their season.
For Yohan Cabaye’s farcical protest in the summer of 2013, read Hatem Ben Arfa’s desperate attempt to manoeuvre a move to St James’ Park in 2010. As Newcastle know from experience, it is a risky game and the stakes have never been higher.
So far the story of this interminable saga has been Cabaye himself, but the ramifications drill deeper than that. Fail to play this right and Newcastle risk sending a dangerous message to the entire French contingent in their first-team squad.
Don’t believe me? Consider this for size: Newcastle’s Gallic contingent apparently see very little wrong with Cabaye’s actions over the last few days. While the rest of us seethe at the midfielder’s unprofessional behaviour, there is a certain amount of solidarity for a player who has been given an opportunity to better himself and has been denied by Newcastle’s valuation of him.
It makes sense, in a way. After all, many of the players currently on Newcastle’s books made life difficult for their Ligue 1 employers when it became obvious that United wanted to bring them to England. Ben Arfa’s case is the most memorable because he pitched up at Newcastle Airport without Marseille’s permission, but Moussa Sissoko was suspended by Toulouse before his January transfer.
Even if his team-mates felt abandoned by the midfielder in these early weeks of the campaign, neither of them could reasonably chide Cabaye for his actions over the last few days. In reality, the duo probably privately sympathise with their compatriot.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a savaging of the mentality of French footballers or an attempt to encourage any stereotypes. The petulance of Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney this summer is a clear indication that a British passport is no insurance against underhanded tactics to try and get a move. The fact is, though, Cabaye is an influential member of Newcastle’s dressing room, and United are setting a precedent.
They must do everything in their power to make sure Cabaye plays on Saturday. If he refuses again, they need to talk tough and fine him the maximum amount allowed under PFA rules. Such action should be disclosed to remove the nagging suspicion among Newcastle’s fanbase that it is the club behind the decision to keep him out of harm’s way. There might be a dash of hypocrisy here, given the way Newcastle have profited from player power in the past - but so what? Football is a ruthless, unforgiving game and United have to use every advantage their Premier League status gives them. While France’s best backed down, Newcastle simply can’t afford to.
With the pendulum starting to swing away from Cabaye, I wonder what the dressing room mood is now. There is a growing body of evidence that Cabaye - or a meddling agent who has dropped the “poison” according to United insiders - has seriously over-played his hand here.
For his ‘strike’ to work it needs two things: a club desperate to buy him and one that needs to sell him. Unfortunately for Cabaye he has neither, with Arsenal’s eight-day silence since tabling a £10million bid a stark reminder of his place in the Gunners pecking order of targets.
Cabaye clearly fancies this move, but Arsenal’s determination to broker it is open to question. Indeed their unwillingness to even pitch up at the negotiating table until they have exhausted all of their alternatives must have given Cabaye and his advisers food for thought.
A personal opinion here is that the Gunners have left it too late. If Newcastle’s farcical Director of Football Joe Kinnear had anything about him - or had the best interests of Pardew at heart - he would petition Mike Ashley that it is too late to sell Cabaye now. No price could cover the cost to Newcastle’s season.
As it is, Kinnear’s bungling efforts leave me with little confidence that anything of the sort will happen. Newcastle will certainly sell if the price is right, even if they can’t source a replacement in time.
With that grim reality in mind, the least they can do is make sure they don’t set a dangerous precedent for any other twitchy squad members.