Alan Pardew made his second acquisition of the winter transfer window yesterday by snapping up Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa from Montpellier on a five-and-a-half-year contract. The centre-half moves to Tyneside for an undisclosed fee and follows fellow French international Mathieu Debuchy to the club this month as the Magpies look to bolster their bid for survival.
Having accrued a single point from their last five league games, Pardew’s side sit just two points ahead of the drop zone following last Saturday’s home defeat by Reading and are in real danger of being dragged into a relegation fight. With club skipper Fabricio Coloccini apparently keen to return to his native Argentina, the Newcastle boss has turned to the highly-rated 23-year-old to shore up his defence:
“We needed to strengthen the team and bringing in Mapou will give the whole squad a boost. He is precisely the sort of player we’ve been looking to bring to the club. He is a good age for us but has plenty of experience at club and international level. Mapou is a talented footballer, good in the air and on the ground and has all the attributes to succeed as a quality defender in the Premier League. He’s a good character too and that will be important for us over the next few months.”
Born in the Central African Republic, Yanga-Mbiwa moved to France as a youngster and joined the Montpellier youth set-up in 2005. As an 18-year-old, he made his debut towards the end of the 2006-07 and, quickly establishing himself as a regular in the heart of defence, helped his side gain promotion to Ligue 1 a couple of seasons later.
His leadership qualities saw Yanga-Mbiwa named skipper of the club and last term he captained Montpellier to their first ever Ligue 1 title, where they ended the campaign three points ahead of big-spending PSG. Over the course of seven seasons, Yanga-Mbiwa made 186 league appearances, scoring four times and providing three assists. Having featured five times for the France U21 side, he has since picked up three senior caps and was narrowly omitted from the final squad for last summer’s Euro 2012.
With reports once again surfacing this morning of Coloccini’s unrest, it’s looking more likely that Pardew will be without the Argentine by the time February comes around. The Magpies skipper has had an average season by his own high standards in a campaign also blighted by injury – a situation similar to that of Steven Taylor. Without the stability of his first-choice central defensive pairing at the back, Pardew has seen his side register just four clean sheets all season – a far cry from the resilient displays that kept our their opponents 15 times last term.
As a result, Pardew has mainly relied on Mike Williamson but with Taylor edging towards a return, Williamson – who has started 18 of the Magpies’ 23 league matches – could well be edged out the picture and revert to the role of squad player once again. Strong in the air, Yanga-Mbiwa reads the game well and is composed on the ball at the back – there seems little doubt he’s set to be installed in the heart of the back-four.
Faith in Newcastle’s Fantasy assets is understandably low right now, though. Pardew’s side started the campaign with two defeats in their opening 10 but, in a season which has seen many of their main men sidelined by injury, have since lost 10 of their last 13 matches – it’s little surprise the Newcastle boss has been linked with a handful of new players as he looks to quickly address his side’s dire form. Confidence may be dented at present but as the new acquisitions continue to arrive, we may once again find the Magpies offering us a source of mid-price Fantasy alternatives.
Likely to come in at 5.0 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL), Yanga-Mbiwa has a trip to fellow-strugglers Villa up next and while games against Chelsea and Tottenham dent his appeal, Newcastle then face a kind run of matches (SOT, swa, STO, wig) that look crucial to their prospects. While Pardew is clearly delighted with his new arrival, reports in the French suggest that Montpellier boss Rene Girard is set to leave the club this summer as a result of his annoyance over Yanga-Mbiwa’s sale – a show of appreciation over Newcastle’s new boy if ever there was one. His lack of attacking returns in France, however, suggest Yanga-Mbiwa is likely to be overshadowed by 5.0 priced Debuchy for goals and assist potential, though the stability he brings at the back could well boost his side’s appeal from a defensive perspective.