Thursday, July 07, 2011

A Month Of Saturdays: June 2011

Zut alors! June was mostly spent saying "Bienvenue! Ca va?" to a succession of French-born imports. Forget Julio Geordio - his 2011 equivalent is Pierre le Geordie: "Haway les jeunes hommes, y'kna! Pour aller au marche de Bigg, s'il vous plait?"

First to officially sign up was Yohan Cabaye, who - oddly enough - had been sold on a move to Tyneside by compatriots David Rozenhal and Charles N'Somnia. His teammates Belgian winger Eden Hazard and sometime Toon target Gervinho may have grabbed the limelight, but Cabaye was Lille's midfield lynchpin as they secured an unlikely Ligue 1 title. Expect the French international to give us added stability, steel and drive through the middle, particularly away from home - and hopefully in tandem with Mr T.

Then, in the space of two days, came two acquisitions on free transfers: Demba Ba and Sylvain Marveaux. In his few months at Upton Park, Ba was unable to help haul West Ham out of the relegation zone and preserve their Premier League status, but it certainly wasn't for want of trying. Given that the mobile and powerful Senegalese striker caught the eye of a number of managers, our swoop was a smart piece of business - the wheels of the deal once again being oiled by a glowing recommendation from a player, this time Hatem Ben Arfa.

Marveaux, meanwhile, is more of an unknown quantity, though one whom Liverpool had already come very close to signing (if that's a guarantee of quality - and, looking at Paul Konchesky and Milan Jovanovic, I'm not sure it is...). While there remain concerns about his fitness following an injury-plagued final season for Rennes, it's to be hoped that Marveaux - a predominantly left-sided midfielder/forward - will bring guile, craft and pace to the attack.

And finally there was one for the future, Mehdi Abeid, an out-of-contract teenage midfielder recruited from Lens who broke the news long before the club. With the possibility that there may yet be further additions to our French foreign legion (including a reunion with the Zog), it's only a matter of time before snail pies are on the pre-match menu and the team runs out not to 'Local Hero' or the very-nearly-150-year-old 'Blaydon Races' but 'La Marseillaise'...

All this isn't to suggest that June was an unmitigated triumph as regards transfers. We were frustrated in our bid for Swansea's Neil Taylor, for instance, while our interest in PSG's Turkish forward Mevlut Erdinc never seemed to take concrete form and not one but two alleged targets wound up at 5under1and, Craig Gardner following former Brum colleague Sebastian Larsson up to the Dark Place.

But without a doubt the most talked-about move was outgoing: the controversial sale of Kevin Nolan to West Ham. Both Paul and I were provoked into posting reactions to the deal, which was indicative of several things: Jabba's refusal to be dictated to or held to ransom over salaries or contract lengths; his determination to assert his authority over a key member of the "players' committee" that had rallied the troops following the Leyton Orient friendly defeat and that had questioned the sacking of Chris Hughton; Alan Pardew's relative powerlessness; the fact that ultimately every player has a price and is dispensible. There was however cautionary advice from the BBC's Robert Peston, though, who - analysing the results of Deloitte's investigation into football finance for the 2009/10 season - effectively argued that a Jabbaesque policy of shipping out high wage earners and replacing them on the cheap is likely to meet with failure. Basically, you have to speculate to accumulate, as the saying goes.

Not only did Nolan's unceremonious ejection deprive us of our captain and top goalscorer (from midfield, crucially), but it also threatened to destabilise and tear apart the remaining squad. Hot-headed as ever, ASBO was unable to restrain himself, blurting out his disgust and disappointment on Twitter and suggesting that he, Jose Enrique and Spidermag would be next out of the door, only to subsequently backtrack with some hollow platitudes. No doubt he was cheered by being linked with Arsenal. (Though perhaps not as much as by being granted a personal audience with Morrissey at Glastonbury - we missed a trick with an ironic headline of "This charming man", didn't we?) Meanwhile it was reported that fringe members of the squad have been made available - Leon Best, Alan Smith and also Nile Ranger, with whom it seems patience may finally have run too thin.

Nolan's new manager at West Ham is actually his old one, Fat Sam having blagged the gig in the wake of Avram Grant's departure, and there'll be another reunion when the Hammers play fellow relegees Birmingham, who've named Chris Hughton as Alex McLeish's successor. Bucking the trend of former Toon managers scoring themselves new jobs were Wor Al, interviewed but overlooked by Cardiff, and his one-time nemesis Ruud Gullit, sacked by Chechen club Terek Grozny for allegedly being more preoccupied with extracurricular leisure activities than trying to reverse his side's ailing fortunes. Elsewhere Shearer's erstwhile strike partner for club and country, Little Saint Mick, took logic to new levels of complexity by signing up for another year on the Old Trafford bench just days after whining about the unfairness of his continued exclusion from the England squad, and Agent Chopra left Cardiff for Ipswich. As with the new men in charge at Upton Park and St Andrews, we wish one of them well...

Finally, in the month which saw the publication of the fixture list - our campaign opening with the visit of Arsenal followed by a trip to Mordor - there was another fixture of personal significance. Thanks to Paul for the write-up (though he neglected to mention the Brown Ale bottles used as vases...), and to Jen for indulging my persistent need to pontificate at length on all things black and white round these parts.




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