Newcastle United announced the signing of Romain Amalfitano Wednesday, a move that had been rumored for about a month. Amalfitano's contract with Stade Reims officially ends June 30, so pen will be put to paper to make the transfer official shortly thereafter. Romain had this to say about the move:
I am very happy to be a Newcastle player. I have seen a bit of the city already and it is a change from France but one I am really looking forward to. When a club like Newcastle wants you to play for them it can only be a good thing. I have taken the opportunity to play in the Premier League and cannot wait to get going.
Romain Amalfitano is a 22 year old (soon to be 23) right-footed attacking midfielder who was instrumental in achieving promotion for Reims to Ligue 1 in 2011-12. He is perhaps best known (for now) as the little brother of Marseilles midfielder Morgan, so the bloodlines are certainly there. According to reports, he is known for possessing a quick mind and quick feet, a phrase reminiscent of the praise given Yohan Cabaye last offseason when he himself made the switch to Newcastle. According to the player himself, he is comfortable in a central attacking role or on the right wing.
That Newcastle seem so eager to gain the signature of a player over the age of 21 indicates that they expect him to be able to contribute immediately, but the contract length (only 3 years) betrays that to some degree. Amalfitano is not so much a Cabaye protege as he is a Danny Guthrie replacement, though Guthrie's newfound desire to stay may just complicate the situation. Squad depth is always important, and it will be more so in 2012-13, but I find myself wondering exactly what his role will be. Romain does not possess top flight experience, much less in one of the "Big 4" European leagues, so scouts must have really seen some untapped top shelf talent to justify taking up a spot on the 25-man squad.
I'm not one to doubt Graham Carr, who has developed a reputation for having a keen eye for uncovering French talent, but let's make sure that we are not giving credit for deeds not done. Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa were not diamonds in the rough, so to speak, and even Sylvain Marveaux was acquired at a discount thanks to a well-established injury history (one that proved to be rather predictive in its own right). The only signing out of France in recent memory that one can truly label as obscure is that of Mehdi Abeid, and the jury is still out on him (though I was and still am very optimistic about his chances of sticking in the senior squad). Yes, Amalfitano is French, and yes, French players have had success at Newcastle, but one fact does not necessarily beget the other, even if he were comparable to the other French players that have passed through. Add in the fact that he appears to be very attack-minded and not quite suited for a holding role (which is frankly a more glaring need), and the signing starts to look a bit more bizarre.
It does seem a bit disingenuous to complain that a free transfer signing (probably) isn't the next Hatem Ben Arfa, so allow me to check my reservations at the door and examine what I like about the kid. I've posted a highlight video below, which will almost surely beget the comment that anybody can look good on Youtube. It's true that highlight videos don't show the missed crosses, ill-timed runs, and failures to track back on defense, but these sorts of reels do not materialize if there is no body of work to support them. Amalfitano does benefit here from some seriously questionable defending and goaltending, but you can see his quick decision-making abilities that allow him to take advantage of his opponents' mistakes. At times he shows a very good first touch and it is evident that he possesses excellent vision. All in all, I believe he has a great chance to be successful at Newcastle if he's used correctly, and there's no reason to believe that Alan Pardew won't be responsible with his minutes.