THIS was a glorious victory that was three years in the making.
Moussa Sissoko’s impressive introduction to St James’ Park provided Tyneside with the sort of instant gratification that changes seasons – but there is nothing short-term about the methods that brought the Parisian powerhouse from the south-west of France to an expectant Newcastle on Saturday afternoon.
The brilliant brace that slayed Chelsea has alerted the Premier League to the presence of a player Alan Pardew called a “giant”, but United’s new arrival was not plucked from Ligue 1 by chance. Instead the Sissoko coup was down to 36 months of hard graft, networking, watching games and quite simply working at it.
To understand the beating heart of Newcastle United’s French revolution – which culminated in a joyous explosion of red, blue, black and white on Saturday – you need to rewind to February 7, 2010 and the decision to implement a new type of scouting system under the wily Graham Carr.
Tired of the notion that football teams had to be expensively assembled by spending money on the current flavour of the month, Mike Ashley demanded something different from the sort of spending that is en vogue at QPR. In a sport where success is judged in short 90-minute bursts, putting money into such a long-term process was a risk, but on Saturday another chunk of that faith was repaid.
So the next time an ex-pro or professional pundit lazily wanders aloud why a player like Sissoko pitches up in Newcastle rather than Manchester, Liverpool or North London, they should be reminded that he was identified as a potential Magpies target almost three years ago on windswept, half-empty grounds all over France. It is exactly this sort of long-term interest that tends to turn a player’s head, even when unscrupulous agents are trying to persuading him that there is a quicker buck available elsewhere. And it is precisely the reason why United’s supporters have welcomed their French revolution rather than bemoaning it.
Pardew spoke afterwards of the crowd’s “intelligence” and in Yohan Cabaye, Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran they know good players when they see them. They are buying up berets in bulk, but it is the stockpiling of talent that fills them with the most hope.
On Saturday, the whole thing dove-tailed beautifully to provide St James’ Park with its finest moment of a frustrating campaign. With Sissoko to the fore, Newcastle were simply magnificent against a Chelsea team that were equally balletic in spells. Newcastle began brightly and with purpose and thoroughly merited their half-time lead, delivered when Jonás Gutiérrez threw himself at Davide Santon’s precise cross.
When Chelsea hit back – Frank Lampard and Juan Mata scoring two of the best goals St James’ Park will see this season – you could sense the anxiety building on an afternoon when the division’s strugglers were picking up points. But United, imbued with what Pardew reckons is a newly-discovered “inner belief”, were able to respond. And as the terraces fed off the energy of their new arrivals, it was incredible to think that this was the same stadium that echoed with rebellion when Reading rolled them over to prise open the relegation trapdoor.