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It's fair to say that this has been a busy week at St James' Park. Newcastle have signed four players in as many days in an effort to stave off an impending battle against relegation. All four players were purchased from Ligue Un, adding to the meaningful French contingent already at the club. This is now composed of ten players qualified to play for France, with another four who were born in French-speaking countries. That's quite a haul.
After the vomit-inducing Twitter 'jokes' regarding Newcastle playing in the French home shirt and the English players having to become learned in the Gallic tongue have died down, such a policy does raise an interesting question of identity within the club and its relationship with the town and supporters. Have Newcastle sold their soul over the channel?
Firstly, the logic. Newcastle were in desperate need of recruits as they entered the January transfer window. Injuries had laid bare a squad that had become effectively strangled by the successes of last season. Europa League football has taken its toll, and the media has consistently fed the line that the club are now in a worse position than their relegated squad of 2008/9. The only Newcastle players that could be said to have improved on last season are Sylvain Marveaux and Davide Santon, and even the latter's performances have suffered lately.
In addition, January has brought its own headaches. Top scorer Demba Ba left for Chelsea, the fee gained markedly less than the striker's worth to Newcastle. At the time of his departure, Ba had scored 13 Premier League goals; the rest of the Newcastle team had the same number between them. Add to that the continuous rumour and counter-rumour regarding the desire of club captain (and best defender) Fabricio Coloccini to return home to Argentina (the club have announced his stay until the summer), and the departure of Cheick Tiote to the African Cup of Nations and Newcastle's need for recruitment was clear. Fans urged owner Mike Ashley to invest.
And invest he has. Mathieu Debuchy has been signed as a first-team replacement for Danny Simpson, Massaido Haidara (at only 20) is cover for Davide Santon, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will usurp Mike Williamson in central defence, Moussa Sissoko is an all-action midfielder and Yoan Gouffran can play out wide, perhaps allowing Hatem Ben Arfa to operate in a more central role behind Papiss Cisse. With all players fit, the depth of Newcastle's squad now looks far more secure.
Newcastle evidently have one of the Premier League's strongest scouting networks, and the club have continued to work on the 'if it ain't broke' principle, with Graham Carr seemingly given carte blanche in transfer selection. The club's top performers in recent times have been purchased from France, so why stop? Moreover, the value for money makes such deals virtual no-brainers, perhaps best summed up by the following equation:
Debuchy + Yanga-Mbiwa + Cabaye + Ben Arfa + Tiote + Cisse = Andy Carroll
I accept the rather simple nature of the maths, but you get the point. Why would Newcastle look elsewhere for their talent when they have a resource seemingly open to being tapped (and I'm making no transfer accusations with that last word)?
Since summer 2011 Newcastle have bought eight international footballers for a touch over £43million. That's less than they received for Kevin Nolan, Fraser Forster, Andy Carroll and Leon Best. This isn't so much a policy as common sense.
But what of the club's identity? Have Newcastle's owners and scouting department lost a sense of what the club should be? Don't be foolish.
Firstly, if having a multitude of foreigners at a club forces this abstract idea of identity to be lost, then complaints are long overdue. On Boxing Day 1999, Gianluca Vialli became the first ever manager to pick a team entirely of foreign players. The Chelsea team that day read Holland, Spain, Brazil, France, Nigeria, Romania, France, Uruguay, Italy, Italy, Norway - a cosmopolitan affair in a league that embraced such an influx.
Foreign recruitment on an industrial scale is also not unique. Shakhtar Donetsk have nine Brazilians, SK Lierse of Belgium have eight Egyptians and FC Cluj have nine Portuguese players in their squad. When a club such as Watford can have 17 different nationalities I think we can deduce that the ship has sailed.
The fact is that whilst a born Geordie may have an underlying connection and affinity to the city, and the Ameobis and Steven Taylor remain to provide that (substitute) core, a French player will have no less kinship with the club and city than a player from London or Cardiff.
The idea that a club needs homegrown players to allow supporters to affiliate sufficiently is a completely out-dated notion. Manchester City fans would rank Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany high amongst their most loyal and committed players, Manchester United supporters will forever praise the attitude of Peter Schmeichel, Nemanja Vidic and Roy Keane and if Arsenal were picking three players that defined the club's Premier League era, England's Tony Adams would surely be joined by France's Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.
The identity of a club is not built in its players, nor in its owners (11 of the 20 in the Premier League are foreign) or managers (Newcastle have one of the English three). These are mere transients. The identity of a club is in the constant and the eternal, leaving just the fan base, those that love their city as they love their club. As long as players show professionalism, pride and honesty, there will be no more questions.
Ask Newcastle fans whether they were proud of their squad that contained 11 Englishmen and were relegated in 2008/9, and you will have your answer. Newcastle's business in this window has been hugely impressive, and fans would rather see 11 different nationalities playing Premier League football than 11 Geordies in the Championship. Therein lies the answer.
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