It's an open secret that Newcastle United are in dire need of defenders of all stripes this summer. I would argue, and I would not be alone, that wing back should be the main focus for Alan Pardew and company, especially if Danny Simpson leaves (and that "if" is beginning more and more to look like a "when"). But if a wide player is Priority #1, a center half is 1A. Even if Steven Taylor can return from his Achilles' injury without a hitch and play at the same level that he did for 14 games in 2011, there's still the issue of depth. We've already covered right back Mathieu Debuchy, ultimately concluding that we as a fanbase have perhaps allowed ourselves to let the facts of his association with Yohan Cabaye to delude us into thinking that the contract is all but signed, when in fact there appears to be a relatively slim chance that he actually ends up on Tyneside.
Today, we take a rather belated look (sorry!) at another French defender that has the Toon Army dreaming. The circumstances surrounding Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa are quite different from Debuchy, obviously, but the bottom line is that it is extremely unlikely he ends up wearing black and white stripes when the transfer window closes in August.
The first issue is the price tag. Yanga-Mbiwa's happens to be £7 million, reported as high as 10 in some places, and given the players said to be in on him (more on that in a moment), it's a good bet that number will rise. It's great that we're all feeling optimistic about Newcastle's financial situation (seriously), but let's not forget that the impressive profit posted by the team in FY2011 doesn't happen without a rather infamous and significant transaction taking place. None of the sales since have put any serious amount of coin in FCB's pocket. Speaking of that, don't forget that the club owes Ashley money - lots of it, in fact. There are encouraging signs: the aforementioned profit, the amount of TV money generated by this season's high finish, and some wages that are expected to come off the books, but the reality is that a double-digit transfer fee probably isn't happening unless a subsequent move is made.
The second issue is the quality of the teams chasing Mapou. Among those rumored are Manchester United, Arsenal, Dortmund, Liverpool, Marseilles, and Monchengladbach. 4 of those 6 will be playing Champions League football next season, and oh by the way, so will MYM's current team, Montpellier, who took home the Ligue 1 title in 2011-12. Yanga-Mbiwa is, of course, aware of this fact:
We now have our last match with Montpellier, than then I will think calmly about my future. I have good feedback the president has given me, I want to stay and we'll see.
That is, admittedly, a more tepid commitment than that given by teammate Younes Belhanda in the same article, but it's worth asking why he would want to leave a guaranteed spot for the Champs League in order to join a club that is guaranteed, at this moment in time, all of 2 matches in the Europa League next season. In fact, there's really not much of anything that Newcastle has to offer that isn't better offered by one of the other clubs mentioned here (and we're assuming until we know better that the interest is genuine, mostly because attempting to divine truth from rumor columns published on English sites will only serve to drive otherwise stable people insane). The other clubs can offer a better class of European competition, possess a much more aggressive wage structure, and can afford to pay higher transfer fees. Sure, he's French, and Newcastle have plenty of players that he could converse with, but so does his home club, and then there's Arsenal. The Toon can (probably) offer him a guaranteed starting position, but he already starts for Montpelier, and at least 2 of the other clubs have significant holes to fill as well.
Unless MYM is a massive Geordie Shore fan who has a strong desire to be close to the action, there's no realistic scenario that sees Yanga-Mbiwa landing with Newcastle. Unfortunately for both fans of Newcastle United and MTV-UK, Yanga-Mbiwa seems to have his eye elsewhere:
To play for Manchester United would be a great satisfaction and a dream which could become reality. Arsenal, also, is a big team. Marseille, also, despite of their difficulties, remains very attracting. I would never have thought Marseille would follow me.
Part of the Silly Season is living in fantasy land, though, and I would hate to deprive those of you who can't/won't see reason of a quick look at what it would mean to field Yanga-Mbiwa in Newcastle's XI. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is a 23 year-old right-footed defender. He primarily plays RCB, though he has in the past played right back and dabbled on the left side. That Graham Carr and Alan Pardew are interested in a player with such positional flexibility should come as no surprise. Yanga-Mbiwa is the current captain of Montpellier, and according to reports, his performance has steadily improved year-to-year. He was named to France's preliminary squad for Euro 2012, though he was eventually cut from the final team.
MYM is an athlete, plain and simple. Though a bit on the short side for a central defender at 6 feet even, he is more than capable of handling players much taller than him. He is strong on the ball and smart and confident in possession. He has been praised for his calm demeanor under pressure, which is obviously a highly desirable trait for such a young player. He's not the type of player that's going to join the attack too frequently, but I'm not sure there are too many teams worldwide that are necessarily looking for that type of play out of their center halves.
Below is the MYM video with the most views on Youtube, and it's easy to see why. It's not a highlight video, but instead is one of those edited to show every touch of a given game, in this case a 2010 match with Lille OSC. I like these videos much better for the obvious reasons - all on-the-ball actions are included, regardless of quality. It's currently the best way to spend 5 minutes assessing a player. Ideally, we would get to take a look at his positioning off the ball, and of course it should be said that this is a game he did particularly well in. For a fuller picture, we would want to find a game where he received less than rave reviews. In any case, there's a lot to like here. What stands out the most is the lack of panic under pressure. Yanga-Mbiwa is not content to give away possession by booting the ball down the pitch, but instead works his way out of trouble with confident dribbling and short passing. He shows great awareness, playing the offside trap to perfection in one instance and positioning himself to make aggressive plays on the ball in all others. It's easy to imagine MYM and Fabricio Coloccini working together in tandem, funneling play away from the center of the pitch.
Alas, our collective mind's eye is probably the only one that will see those two on the pitch together, as Mark Douglas of The Journal is reporting that not only is Yanga-Mbiwa likely headed to the Bundesliga (Remember kids, never trust headlines - this one is especially deceptive), but that Newcastle has yet to make a formal offer. Happy trails wherever you land, Mapou.