For the past two to three years there have been some common themes to the Newcastle story. Fabricio Coloccini wants a return to Argentina. Alan Pardew is playing for a draw. Mike Ashley will not spend money. Lee Charnley is awful at evaluating talent. Moussa Sissoko wants to play for Arsenal. With Newcastle set to play Championship soccer this coming season the Sissoko truth has once again started making the rounds.
The summer transfer rumor mill is at full grind, and Sissoko has offered up some telling sentiments. He has no desire to play Championship football, and he wants to leave Newcastle for the Gunners.
I have reached a level where playing in the Championship would be difficult for me. I need to continue to evolve. I aspire to play for the greatest European clubs and to continue with the French national team. There will be discussions. I hope that they go in the right direction. I want to leave. I would like to continue my career in England, in a club that plays Champions League football. Everyone knows, I often said it when I was young, Arsenal is the club of my heart, because there were quite a few French players there like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Patrick Vieira who was my idol...The beautiful Arsenal. We will see. I cannot tell you if I am going to go to Arsenal. For the moment, I am focused on the French national team and the Euros.
This echoes his words from December 2014.
I have ambition. My goal is to play at the best clubs, playing the Champions League, win trophies, but today I am a Magpie and I am very happy. Arsenal were my favourite club when I was young and my idol was Patrick Vieira. I have always loved this club and I still love them.
Sissoko was part of an aggressive move by the club in the 2012/13 season's winter transfer window. Coming off a 2011/12 campaign which saw Pardew's squad finish fifth in the table, the following season could not continue the promise of top table play. Sitting firmly in the 16th spot, and a mere two points from the drop zone, the club looked to France for salvation. Along with Moussa they added Massadio Haidara, Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
His impact was immediate. In his debut Newcastle defeated Aston Villa 2-1, with Sissoko assisting on the first goal. The following week he would score two goals, including a game clincher in the 90th minute that gave Newcastle a 3-2 victory over Rafa Benitez led Chelsea. He would score again two weeks later in a 4-2 victory over Southampton, but disappeared for the remainder of the season. Newcastle would end the season in the same position they where in when Sissoko was signed. Five points clear of relegation with only Sunderland between them and the red line.
In four seasons on Tyneside, Moussa never became the offensive threat he was brought in to be. Eleven total goals is a testament to that. Statistically Gouffran was a better offensive signing. While at times his play was reported as "utterly superb" more often than not he looked lost, and along with Pappis Cisse appeared to compete for the laziest player on the pitch award.
During this past season his play became even more erratic. Indecisiveness in the box, lack of vision in the attack and an absence of urgency on defense were the cornerstones of a season in which he scored a mere one goal. Is that all on Sissoko? It could be argued Sissoko spent too much time out of position wide right. When Rafa took over he slotted him as an attacking midfielder. The example favoring this argument could be his play in a 3-0 over Swansea which saw Moussa score his only goal of the season. Benitez lauded his performance, and for the fans it was a shot of confidence in the race to survive relegation.
While this late run saw Sissoko begin to take shape under Benitez it was the 0-0 draw to already relegated Aston Villa, a game which Newcastle had to win, where the Frenchman all but disappeared again. As The Chronicle's Lee Ryder wrote in his player evaluation post-match:
(Sissoko) Slipped back to the player that couldn’t pick out a pass earlier in the season.
Sissoko's career at Newcastle could best be qualified in a list of "maybes". Maybe too much was expected of him. Even while in France he wasn't a prolific scorer by any means, tallying a mere 20 goals in 192 matches. His best season was 2009/10 where he not only found the net seven times, but appeared in seven UEFA Europa matches. Maybe the £2 million price tag should have been an indicator of getting what you pay for. Surely another club could have offered more if the talent was there. Maybe he was, at best, a defending midfielder whose athletic ability held the potential of an attacking midfielder. Unfortunately for him he existed under inept coaching that, some have noted, favored the likes of Tiote or Colback in the midfielder role.
Writing for Yahoo! Sport, Newcastle United blogger Tim Cunningham may have summed it up best last October.
Sissoko’s poor performances this season have made him somewhat of a scapegoat and he only has himself to blame for this. It is well known that Sissoko wanted to leave the club in the summer to play Champions League football. Whether there were any bids for him or not, he clearly isn’t happy that he is still at Newcastle United and it appears that this unhappiness has filtered in to his performances on the pitch, and, given the influence he clearly has amongst the squad, has this affected other players’ performances as well?
When Moussa shone the light was bright. Maybe Cunningham is correct and he is a scapegoat for the myriad of problems that has plagued this club. Rafa seems to think there is a diamond to be mined, and has expressed a desire to keep him. I think it is time to let him go. He has been vocal for some time that Arsenal red runs through his veins. He loves that club. Newcastle may have had his heart at some point, but it has long been lost. Even if they did have it they were never his true love.