Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Dreamboat has sailed

So it's official, then: we've waved au revoir to Dreamboat, who's sailed off to PSG in pursuit of greater fame and fortune. More than a few hearts - both female and male - have been broken on Tyneside and, as one Twitter user quipped, we can only hope that club officials have removed his chum Mathieu Debuchy's shoelaces and belt...

Dreamboat was on his way as soon as the French side put in a firm offer and it was rebuffed without the standard accompaniment of a "Not for sale" message. The implication was clearly that if the price was right, we would sell - and a club like Qatari-owned PSG for whom money is no object were never going to pass up an invitation to make a larger offer. That initial bid left me clinging desperately to the hope that he might turn down the move on personal grounds - but that was wishful thinking in the extreme, given the lure of returning to his homeland with his boyhood favourites who are top of Ligue 1 and can offer Champions League football.

Dreamboat has spoken about his excitement at joining an "ambitious project" - some fans may flag up what this implies about the club he's just left behind, but I don't think this is actually necessarily a reflection on our own ambition, as no one could have realistically expected us to hold onto him in the face of that temptation and an offer that matched our valuation.

When Dreamboat signed, in June 2011, it seemed like something of a coup to have secured the services of a 25-year-old French international midfielder, one who had just captained unfancied Lille to the Ligue 1 title, for just £4.3m - and so it proved. After a comically inauspicious start to his Newcastle career - unable to join the squad on a pre-season tour of the US due to a dispute over a dental bill - he soon established himself as the lynchpin of the side. It's no coincidence that our fortunes have waxed and waned with his form - great in his first season in England, poor last campaign (partly, he claimed, due to post-Euro 2012 depression), back to his sparkling best this term. He contributes goals, assists and cultured passing, while also loving a tackle - somewhat unusually for a creative player, he's no stranger to a yellow card.

What will Dreamboat be best remembered for? The stunning free-kick in the 3-0 St James' Park demolition of Man Utd in January 2012? His brace and delicious assist for Papiss Cisse in the 3-0 win over Stoke in April of that year? His thumping volley at Anfield that autumn? For me, though, it would have to be the goal last December that ended the Old Trafford hoodoo. It was fitting, too, that he was superb on his final appearance for the club, pulling the strings and inspiring us to victory over Fat Sam's West Ham with a pair of goals. Aside from the petulant strop he threw in August following a derisory bid of £10m from Arsenal, after which he quickly kissed and made up, he's conducted himself well and enjoyed good relations with the supporters, who have been serenading Jabba from the terraces with the song "Don't sell Cabaye".

Of course, our owner has taken no notice of the fans, as usual, and decided to cash in. Theoretically we could have declared Dreamboat was off limits at any price and clung onto him until the summer, which would have allowed us to see how a promising season panned out, before selling at a time when we would have more time to source a suitable replacement. But the lure of hard cash now, with our Premier League status already almost secure for another season and little appetite for Europa League qualification, was too much for Jabba to resist.

In fact, it's emerged that not accepting a reasonable offer would have been to renege on an agreement Dreamboat struck in August, in the wake of the Arsenal debacle. While many fans will bemoan the way a January sale has been secretly on the cards for months, I'm inclined to be grateful for the fact that we managed to get his head straightened out and profited from his talent for six months more than might otherwise have been the case.

So where does Dreamboat's departure leave us? In simple terms, we no longer have a creative central midfielder who can pick a pass, unlock a defence and keep us ticking over nicely. Fans' favourite HBA is now likely to feature more regularly, but he's a markedly different type of player, operating predominantly in wider areas and lacking his compatriot's tenacity in the tackle.

The fee - £19m, potentially rising beyond £20m - is potentially very good business for a player who was an absolute steal at just over £4m two and a half years ago; I say only "potentially" because it all hinges on whether that profit is subsequently invested wisely in strengthening the team, as the Silver Fox insists it should be, or whether it's simply trousered by Jabba. We would struggle to replace Dreamboat adequately in any circumstances, let alone with less than 48 hours to go until the transfer window shuts and with JFK in charge of our transfers. Between now and 11pm tomorrow, watch this space - though I fear that for the rest of the season we'll be left ruefully watching the space Dreamboat used to fill.

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