Virtues of Mathieu Valbuena much-needed at Newcastle
Tabloid headline writers have always seen Newcastle United as an easy target. Their most memorable, and least politically correct, work has surely been describing the influx of French footballers at St James’ Park of recent years as ‘frogs on the Tyne’.
All issues of taste and puns on ill-advised charity singles from a bygone era aside, Alan Pardew has more than done his bit for the Entente Cordial. A dozen current members of the Magpies’ first-team squad speak French as a first language.
The result of this has seen every Ligue 1 player who puts in a decent performance linked with joining the Tyneside foreign legion over the last couple of years.
Ask any Toon Army member about the club campaign just ended, and they will tell you the same sorry; Newcastle’s season fell off a cliff when playmaker Yohan Cabaye was sold in January.
Montpellier midfield creator Remy Cabella is the name mentioned in dispatches since to fill this void, but while he remains an unused substitute for France, Marseille counterpart Mathieu Valbuena is catching the eye.
The 29-year-old built on a promising display against hostile Honduras with a goal and an assist for Les Bleus in the next Group E game with Switzerland. So impressive in that 5-2 romp, France are now fourth-favourites to win the World Cup in Brazil at 9/1.
Cabella and Valbuena have something in common – a diminutive stature, and therefore a low centre of gravity. These traits make for elegant midfield players more than capable of doing a similar job to Cabaye, but would either be up to the rigours of Premier League football?
Physical tussles are something the English game has retained, while continental leagues have effectively outlawed them. If Valbuena, who is 5/1 to score again for France in their final group stage match against Ecuador, fancies the challenge then, he may pass compatriot Hatem Ben Arfa on his way out of Newcastle.
Reports in the local press claim the former Marseille player wants out of the Magpies, and is in negotiations to quit the Tyneside team. Valbuena is a more mature option than Ben Arfa, and has done the job of playmaking from a nominally wide berth, but with licence to roam.
If Newcastle could get him, then, it might kill two birds with one stone. More illustrious names are linked with Valbuena, however. British tabloids talked up a move to Liverpool in March, while more recently his name appeared in connection with Luis Enrique’s revolution at Barcelona.
What Valbuena will have if he does opt to leave Marseille is the luxury of choice. Ludovic Giuly, another very similar player, won a La Liga and Champions League double at the Nou Camp in 2006. Challenging for major honours is a definite lure, but the Catalan giants prefer their own.
It is difficult to see where Valbuena would fit into Liverpool’s plans too. A cynical interpretation would be reported interest from Brendan Rodgers is to simply pad theRds squad out for a return to elite European competition next term.
Valbuena has been a big fish in what is a small pond by the Cote d’Azur. Marseille have fallen by the wayside as a consequence of the resurgence of PSG and Monaco, and moving on may be the only way to enjoy club honours.
Newcastle, 50/1 shots to crash the Premier League’s top four next term, need a player like Valbuena, and Tyneside is the closest thing to a home away from he could get in England.