Chief scout Graham Carr's knowledge of the French market, and Mike Ashley's strategy of recruiting young, promising talent at the cheaper end of the spectrum, has seen Newcastle focus on augmenting their own French foreign legion.
France right-back Mathieu Debuchy was a high-profile acquisition at the start of the month but this week Newcastle's recruitment drive has intensified, with another France international, defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa joining from Montpellier.
Newcastle are also poised to announce the signings of Bordeaux forward Yoan Gouffran and Nancy defender Massadio Haidara, while Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko is also expected to join the club, either for a cut-price fee in January or on a free transfer at the end of the season.
With Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux and others already at the club, Newcastle's squad is taking on a distinctly Gallic flavour. So we asked Vincent Bregevin from our French office to fill us in on what Newcastle can expect from their latest French recruits.
1. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (centre-back; 23; signed for £.6.7m from Montpellier)
Yanga-Mbiwa was one of the key players in Montpellier’s title win last season, which is why AC Milan wanted to sign him in the summer and Didier Deschamps has made him a regular in the France squad. He cemented his reputation as one of the best central defender in Ligue 1 despite being young in a position which requires experience. In doing so he demonstrated his maturity.
He’s a very athletic player, strong and fast, very hard to beat for a forward in any kind of challenge. He’s not very tall for his position (6ft) but compensates for it with a very keen sense of anticipation. His biggest weakness might be his passing ability, as he basically never takes any risk and usually gives the ball to a midfielder to let them deal with it.
He also can lose his nerve and has been in trouble for this, once earning a five-game suspension for elbowing Saint-Etienne’s Romain Hamouma. I guess he will fit in the Premier League, but it will be a great challenge for him to perform in a league where the forwards are much better than in France.
2. Yoan Gouffran (forward; 26; set to complete £1.5m move from Bordeaux)
Gouffran has been Bordeaux’s top scorer for the last two seasons - scoring 14 in Ligue 1 last year, which is a record for him. He’s at home as a second forward and the best way to use him is playing alongside a real centre-forward, but he has spent much of his time recently playing alone in Bordeaux's attack and has been good enough in the role.
He’s been used as a right winger as well, but he’s not as good out wide as he actually doesn’t have the qualities to play on the wing: he isn't a particularly good dribbler, he does not cross well and he’s not the fastest player on earth - although that doesn’t mean he’s not quick.
He definitely has a good feeling for goal, and his movement makes him dangerous, but I’m not sure this is going to be enough to shine in the Premier League. I’m actually really surprised to see him go to Newcastle, as he has never reached international level and I consider him more as a Ligue 1 player.
3. Massadio Haidara (left-back; 20; set to complete £2.9m move from Nancy)
He was born in Trappes, like Nicolas Anelka, and has been Nancy’s regular left-back for a year despite his young age. He’s fast and has good technical skills considering his age, but the most impressive part of his game is the strength of his shot. He has a very powerful left foot and has been taking free-kicks for Nancy for some time.
He still has a lot to work on, especially his mental approach: he sometimes lacks concentration and can make positional errors at times. But he remains the best left-back of his generation in France and actually plays for France's Under-21 side.
It’s hard to say if he is ready for Premier League after only one year with Nancy - a team always fighting to stay in the top flight. He has the physical attributes to adapt well to English football and seems to be mentally ready to live up to expectations. But such a big move also could come too early for him.
4. Moussa Sissoko (midfielder; 23; in talks over move from Toulouse)
Only 23, but he’s been a starter for Toulouse for six years and has always played at least 30 league games, which is proof of his consistency. Sissoko is a symbol of the post-France '98 idea of tactics in our country: big physical midfielders with limited technical skills.
He has a lot of impact in midfield, covering a large part of the pitch, and is good at tackling and heading. However, he doesn’t have that much offensive influence despite playing in an advanced position on the pitch. Last season he scored only two goals and had only two assists in 35 games.
Still, he was back in the France squad last autumn and some consider him to be one of the best midfielders in Ligue 1 over the past few seasons, even if no team has come to get him in the last year of his contract. Still, he could be a good fit for the Premier League as he’s physically ready for English football and might be good enough to secure a regular place in his new team.
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