Wednesday 17 Jul 2024

French revolution in England

Rob Hughes / The International Herald Tribune/For The Goan | FEBRUARY 09, 2013, 11:04 AM IST

How swiftly the wheel turns in football.

A decade ago, when Alan Pardew coached the east London teamWest Ham United, he insinuated that as long as he was in football management,he would never betray the English essence of his club by hiring French andother players on the scale that Arsene Wenger pioneered at nearby Arsenal.

In the January trading window alone, Pardew’s latestemployer, Newcastle United, signed up five Frenchmen. Added to those who werealready at the club, that makes 10 French-born players in the squad of 33players he currently manages.

His conversion is simple to explain. France and Spain arethe two countries in Europe where you might pick up superbly taught players oftechnical ability at prices easily affordable to England’s cash-rich PremierLeague clubs.

One of Newcastle’s nicknames, derived from the team’s blackand white striped shirts, is the Magpies. And the club’s chief scout, GrahamCarr, is a 68-year-old-man with the keenest of eyes for talents nesting inFrance, the Netherlands or even Germany.

The scout is the unseen man in the stands, the nomad wholives on the road, ever watchful, quietly persuasive, patient until he gets hisman. And in Carr’s case, for the next man and the one after that.

On Saturday, when Newcastle’s St. James’s Park stadium wascrammed to its 52,314 capacity, the audience saluted the hitherto unforeseentalents of one of the new players, Moussa Sissoko.

He scored twice in a rousing 3-2 victory for Newcastle overthe European champion, Chelsea. He was big, athletic, boundless in covering themidfield territory, brave where the tackles fly, and even by his own standards,astonishing in his ability to steal the match away from Chelsea.

You have to understand that Newcastle, the most northerlymajor city in England, is an enclave unto itself. It is a community withoutdivided loyalties because United is the only team in town – or toon as theGeordies, Newcastle folks, pronounce it.

Not so very long ago, the club’s then-owner, the propertymagnate John Hall, had a dream. He saw Newcastle winning the league not simplywith a team of Englishmen, but with every man in the lineup born and raisedwithin reach of St James’s.

But after Hall sold his stake, a new owner (a Londoner,which makes him almost a foreigner in Newcastle) threw out the local blueprint.Mike Ashley, a sporting goods retailer on a large scale, is an expedientfellow. He likes a bargain, and he sells at high premium.

When Newcastle sold its locally born striker, Andy Carroll,to Liverpool in the 2011 January trading window, he fetched a price of 35million pounds, equivalent to about $55 million at today’s exchange rates.

Sissoko was purchased from Toulouse just less than two weeksago, for about 1.8 million pounds.

You can imagine how the Geordies loved their striker,Carroll. If you came within shouting distance of the stadium Saturday, youmight have had problems separating that adoration from the applause rainingdown on Sissoko.

It wasn’t just that his goals, especially the beautifullyvolleyed match-winner from 20 yards, that they were applauding. It was theeffort, the running, tackling, the never ending chasing from the rangy1.88-meter, or 6-foot-2, Frenchman.

''It was 14 months ago,'' said Pardew, ''when I watchedSissoko in Toulouse. I knew straight away that he was definitely one for us, ifwe could get him.''

Just why Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City or Juventusand Bayern Munich did not follow through and buy Sissoko – only they can know. 

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