Newcastle United were back on song on Tuesday - and Steven Taylor believes the new arrivals are singing from the same hymn sheet as the rest of the squad. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports
“I’m learning a bit and I’m going to get a French CD for the car.”
It is only a small anecdote but quite a revealing one – and it flies in the face of the assumptions a crop of different nationalities will make it difficult to build up team spirit.
That logic has frustrated Newcastle insiders, who feel they are being unfairly targeted by critics for failing to promote homegrown talent when in fact the opposite has been true at times this season.
The fact is those Academy players given an opportunity have not been able to prevent United’s slide into relegation contention and the arrival of five French players is not a case of panic recruitment.
It has also prompted wry smiles from club insiders who remember Joey Barton – born and bred in Liverpool – as one of the most controversial presences in the dressing room from recent years. Nile Ranger, another with an English passport, hasn’t exactly been the model professional either.
By contrast, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa have been fantastic advocates for the football club, promoting the message at every opportunity in France. They live and breathe for football and have settled happily in the North East. It is not providing any problems for the English players inside the dressing room, who just wanted to see good new players added to help the club out. Taylor added: “It’s made a massive difference. It’s a breath of fresh air for us.
“When you look around the dressing room and see new players, top-quality players, there’s competition for places.
“We’ve had a few little games among ourselves and you can see the desire from everybody challenging for places. You have to step up to the plate because the gaffer’s said to us, ‘anyone slacking, you’re out of the side’.” That is a very real threat for everyone in black-and-white now – not least the freshly recalled Taylor.
He has a France defender in Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa breathing down his neck and knows his form will have to be top-notch to retain his place in the starting XI. By the same token, he is already driven to helping Newcastle move up the Premier League table, having experienced his favourite moment in a United shirt on Tuesday night.
The defender said: “I loved it. For me, the feeling at the final whistle was the best I’ve ever experienced in a black-and-white shirt. It’s the best I’ve ever had during my time at Newcastle. We all had a big get-together on Monday night.
“The gaffer presented each of the new signings with a shirt and they all gave a little speech afterwards.
“They were telling the lads, ‘Listen, if you give us the chance we’ll prove to you we want to be here’.”