Mike Ashley opened his chequebook this January, even if the Toon faithful feel it is five months too late, and splashed out on five new signings to help the club fight against relegation.
Alan Pardew celebrated two years in charge at St. James' Park with five anniversary presents from his Chairman and Managing Director. With the impending sale of Demba Ba to someone - eventually Chelsea - and his club hovering above the relegation zone with and injury stricken squad, Alan Pardew must have been begging for reinforcements from Ashley.
His wishes were granted and in one frenetic week late in January four French stars came through the doors at St. James' Park to add to the signing of Mathieu Debuchy (front cover) earlier in the window. This means the North-East club now have five current French internationals, as well as a regular in the under-21 setup, four others yet to gain international honours and three others that can speak French fluently. These high amounts of French-based players will allow the players to settle quickly and focus on getting the club out of their current plight.
An excellent second season back in the top flight, where they finished 5th (ahead of Chelsea) and qualified for the Europa League for the first time since its reform, meant hopes were high for the club this year. Things haven't gone to plan though, with the club failing to agree terms with most of their many targets during the summer, leaving them with a small squad to tackle four trophies. To make matters worse they lost key players to injury early in the season in Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa and Ryan Taylor, as well as last seasons scoring sensation Papiss Cisse looking more like Ade Akinbyi every game. Things were not looking great for Pardew and he was coming under increasing pressure from the fans, frustrated to see him continue with 4-4-2 after 4-3-3 had seemed so effective in the previous campaign. A crowd of just 43,858 at St. James' Park when the team faced Wigan Athletic in December created a reaction from the players who romped home to a 3-0 victory over their now relegation rivals. This revival was short-lived though and the poor results returned to see the team languishing in 16th place and just one point outside the relegation places after a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Reading. This prompted Pardew to request the backing of the board in the transfer market in the coming week, stating they were now seriously involved in a relegation 'dogfight'.
"Where we are at the minute we definitely need to strengthen the squad, no doubt about it.
"The negativity spread around the stadium and it got to the players, and that's what happens when you are down at the bottom. It was a different stadium in the second half, full of 'boos' when the players are just trying to do their best.
"It's obvious that we need some fresh impetuous and that's probably what we've lost. We've lost Demba, we've lost Cheik, we've lost games.
That's something we need to sort out this week, and I think we will."
Additionally, Pardew had to deal with the public debacle regarding current Captain, Fabricio Coloccini. His (Coloccini) Father announced to the press that his son wanted to leave Newcastle United and rejoin his boyhood club, San Lorenzo, in Argentina. These claims were backed up by Coloccini himself and the club were forced to release a statement saying that the Captain was going through personal issues and that they were trying to rectify the situation as amicably as possible. This is where the magic happened.
First through the door was wingback Mathieu Debuchy from Lille for a reported £5m. The French international had been courted by Newcastle for some time, with the fans disappointed not to see him join the club in the summer after Lille failed to agree terms with Mike Ashley. However, with Danny Simpson reportedly unsettled after landing a date with X-Factor judge, Tulisa, Alan Pardew felt it necessary to add to an already limited defence. Debuchy is close friends with star player Yohan Cabaye following their time at Lille together and Cabaye has played a significant role in the start of this French dynasty at St. James' Park.
"He (Cabaye) talked about the club all the time. He just told me that Newcastle was the best, that not only was it one of the best teams in the division but away from the playing side, there was a fantastic infrastructure and great support. That was a big influence and a big attraction."
Though Loic Remy turned his back on joining his international teammates at Newcastle, his rejection could have ignited the fire in Ashley's (large) belly and led to one of the busiest weeks in the clubs history where they signed four players in four days. With Coloccini possibly departing and an embarrassing home defeat to Reading just gone by, Alan Pardew went all out to prevent Mike Williamson from starting a top-flight game again. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was linked with the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Bayern Munich before Newcastle swooped in with a £6.7m offer for the centre-back who won Ligue 1 with Montpellier last term. With consistent inclusions in the France squad, Yanga-Mbiwa looks to have a bright future ahead and although he believes the club to be a stepping-stone to greater things, one cannot fault his ambition. Yoann Gouffran, who had appeared for Bordeaux in the Europa League against Newcastle, was next through the doors, signing for an undisclosed amount thought to be in the region of £2m. Brought in as cover for the struggling Cisse, he is yet to gain a cap for France, but has been a regular for Bordeaux since signing from Caen in 2008, making over 150 appearances for the club. Next up was left-back Massadio Haidara from Nancy for £2m who chose to reject West Ham in favour of joining the French contingent at Newcastle. An under-21 prospect who will go into the reserve side for the rest of the season and will look to settle in before any first team appearances occur. Completing the 'French Five' is Moussa Sissoko from Toulouse, arguably the most promising out of the bunch, arriving for a nominal fee due to contractual issues at his previous club. He is a box-to-box midfielder in the mold of Yaya Toure who can play all across the midfield and is the owner of seven full caps for France, but is yet to score for Les Blues.
With the news that his Captain was staying until the summer at least, Pardew was allowed to concentrate fully on the task at hand when they faced Aston Villa at Villa Park. Inspired by a relentless Moussa Sissoko and the ever-reliable Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle grabbed a precious victory over Paul Lambert's men to record their first away victory of the season. The confidence carried through to their next game as well, at home to European Champions Chelsea, where they persevered and showed great fight to come from behind to snatch a 3-2 victory in front of the Geordie faithful. Moussa Sissoko again showed his credentials by scoring a brace on his home debut, including the winning goal in the 90th minute, in front of the Leazes end.
"It was unbelievable - that's what we've got. Demba's going to miss it at Chelsea, trust me. I've been at some big clubs where you don't get an atmosphere like that, big, big clubs.
"Even at Manchester United - you can go to three quarters of their home games and you don't get an atmosphere like that. It's unbelievable when it's like that. "
It is only two games and further work must be done to salvage the season, but big strides have been taken and fears of relegation are residing. These signings are a show of intent by Alan Pardew and his scouting team, who have once again shown their qualities with some astute signings. If Alan Pardew can turn this around and build a solid core then fans will no doubt be expecting big things come next season. Can he get his French boys firing and aim for the Champions League as was expected this season. Only time will tell.
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