First impressions last the longest, so they say. And Newcastle United’s French contingent are looking to make a lasting impression. Neil Cameron reports
UNDERSTANDING the Geordie tongue is challenging. The home-grown players were scared when all the new French signings walked through the door. English football is 10 times more difficult than Ligue 1.
And every single person in Newcastle’s dressing room, no matter where they come from, are utterly united in a desire to bring success to the football club.
These are the views from Newcastle’s French contingent given this week to daily sports paper L’Équipe’s television channel, whose crew are now a week or so away from gaining squatting rights at the training ground, such is the frequency in which they travel over from Paris.
The French footballing public sway from intrigued to fascinated about Newcastle United’s love affair with their footballers, which has sprung up over the past 18 months.
When Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux and Gabriel Obertan joined Hatem Ben Arfa on Tyneside in the summer of 2011, the general public across the Channel thought it amusing and a little bit interesting that an English Premier League club had four French players on its books.
The January arrivals of Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haïdara, however, made the entire country sit up and take notice of what was going on over here.
But should anyone be surprised that Newcastle have gone down the Gallic route?
As Cabaye (pictured below) said: “You have to remember that before we arrived here, there have been plenty of French players at the club such as Laurent Robert, David Ginola, Franck Dumas, Antoine Sibierski, Olivier Bernard.
“All of them made a really good, lasting impression on Newcastle United.
“I think that here the impression of a French player is of someone who is respectful that is ready to give everything to help the club have the best results possible.”
This is the crux of Newcastle’s signing policy.
Alan Pardew, and he’s not alone, believes the French players not only offer value for money, but are dedicated, more professional and possess more ball skills than many of their English counterparts.
Newcastle’s manager is keen from now on not to concentrate on the nationalities of his players, but rather how good they are at kicking a football, something he feels their background helps them to do.
Pardew told L’Équipe TV: “We have a great understanding of the French mentality from our experiences with Cabaye and Ben Arfa. French players are often better technically than our young English players. The training and coaching is first class in France. In your country (France), there are more players for the level we need.”
Sissoko has needed just two games to show he is better than just about anyone else. There is a temptation to go overboard after three hours of football, but it’s not going too far to suggest the midfielder does look to be the real deal.
Sissoko said in his first Press conference that he knew what to expect, having been an avid watcher of the Premier League for some years, but the physicality of those first two matches, a win at Aston Villa and Saturday’s heroics against Chelsea at St James’ Park, was something new to even this rather powerful chap. Sissoko said: “Football in England is nothing like we see in France.
“The biggest difference is in the impact, the duels between players. It was more physical. I would say it is 10 times more difficult.
“But I was not surprised by this. I had watched a lot of the Premier League for many years. So I knew what to expect. I was ready for it.”
Right-back Debuchy was, of course, supposed to arrive in the summer when a fee between Lille and Newcastle could not be agreed.
And he says the fact he and his mates eventually got to Newcastle in the other transfer window has put more pressure on the French players. Debuchy said: “We didn’t have time to prepare ourselves for what was coming as we would have done had we all arrived last summer. We have had to play well immediately.
“All of us have to prove ourselves on the pitch right now. We can’t wait. Fortunately, we won against Aston Villa and then Chelsea in the first two games since the other guys were signed. It’s been a good start.”
Marveaux is almost a veteran given he has been at Newcastle for 18 months now, although it is only recently that the now fully fit playmaker has produced his best football.
He has seen a change in attitude in the English and those other team-mates who do not come from France – and there are a few – since last month when almost half a new team walked in the door speaking in the same and different language.”
Marveaux said: “At the beginning of the season when there weren’t so many French guys here and maybe three at most would be in the team, it was okay for the English players.
“But then last month they saw one, two, three, four, five arrived. They were surprised by this and also, I think, also, I think were a bit afraid.
“Then after a while they saw the guys did not want to create a French clan who would only speak to one another.
“The most important thing is that we need to get it right on the pitch. If that happened then everything is okay. But the new boys do need to work a little bit with the language.”
And that might take a little bit of doing as at least one admitted the local dialect is, for now, a complete mystery.
Sissoko said: “The English guys speak very fast. There is a particular accent in the North East of England and it’s not so easy to understand. But I will try to learn.”