An Inside Look At Florian Thauvin and why his path to Newcastle United resembles Hatem Ben Arfa’s

Words by Aziz Khalil – follow him on Twitter @azizk47

Written for NUFC360 - a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates. Follow them @NUFC360

On August 19th 2015, Newcastle United officially announced their 5th signing of the summer. 22 year-old midfielder Florian Thauvin was signed from Olympique de Marseille for a £13 million transfer fee, which brings Newcastle’s summer spending to a whopping £50 million.

This is the most Mike Ashley has sanctioned in funds, in a single window, topping last summer’s £38 million. Long gone are the days of complaining about the owner not spending and investing into the club. Included in the deal with Marseille is Newcastle midfielder Rémy Cabella, who was signed last summer for £10 million from Montpellier. Cabella is going back to the Ligue 1 and will suit up with French giants l’Olympique de Marseille on a loan deal with an option to buy at the end of the spell. The Thauvin signing stands as the 15th French players to sign with Newcastle in the past 5 years (Cabaye, Débuchy, Amalfitano, Sissoko, Haidara, Yanga-Mbiwa, Ben Arfa, Cabella, Kemen, Gouffran, Obertan, Rivière, Marveaux, Rémy, Thauvin).

While some may say this is a straight swap of similar type players, it most definitely is not. Florian Thauvin is a natural winger, some Marseille fans say he is best used on the right side, but others claim he plays better on the left. Rémy Cabella was used all over the place and sometimes out of position last season under Pardew and Carver (surprise, surprise). Naturally a #10, Cabella would’ve been behind Wijnaldum, De Jong, Ayoze and Sissoko, in that pecking order, to play the CAM position. There was simply no room for him on the roster anymore. Cabella was seen as a flashy, tacky and flamboyant type of player, whereas Thauvin is more known to be a hard-nosed, pest. The U21 midfielder had drawn comparisons to Franck Ribéry when he was coming through the French system.

The signing of Florian Thauvin puts an end to a multi-year chase by head scout Graham Carr and the director’s board. Newcastle United have wanted this player for a long, long time. It is almost like a trophy signing for Carr. In January 2014, he was named by The Observer as one of the ten most promising young players in Europe. The ruggedness of Thauvin continues a trend of character that we’ve seen through players in the transfer window, including Mitrovic, Wijnaldum and Mbemba. McClaren wants to change the identity of this club.

Thauvin scored 13 goals in 69 games during his Marseille stint (2013-2015). I caught up with a good friend of mine and avid Marseille fan, Jay Chan (@poeticsasusual on Twitter), to break down Florian Thauvin. While discussing NUFC’s newest signing and his path to signing with Newcastle United, Jay couldn’t help but be reminded of the way an ex-Magpie and fan favorite arrived in the North East: Hatem Ben Arfa.

Florian Thauvin has drawn comparisons to Franck Ribéry for his furious pace and tricky dribbling. Unfortunately, NUFC have recent memories of a player who had a very similar billing; Hatem Ben Arfa. Further to this, should you be trying to discern which cloth Thauvin has been cut from, you may find a more familiar feel with Ben Arfa then Ribéry, owing largely to the difference in quality.

He transferred to Lille in January of 2013, but part of the agreement was that he would finish the season on loan at Bastia. In the second half of the season he was incredible, and leaving at season’s end for Turkey only to return with a U-20 World Cup winner’s medal simply elevated his status as one of the top prospects in French football. What followed was extremely Ben Arfa-esque. The only thing we know with any degree of certainty is that he transferred to Marseille without ever making an appearance for Lille. What is assumed is that Marseille had made a more concrete effort to acquire his services, and Thauvin, well aware that Marseille would be offering a far heftier salary than what had been negotiated with Lille in January, demanded more money. The brass at Lille refused, and so Thauvin opted not to train with the team in order to force a move to Marseille, where he would have a brand new contract.

That being said, Ben Arfa forced his way out of two clubs, whereas Thauvin has only done this with Lille, and this time it looks like Marseille are pushing him out the door in order to deal with seemingly endless financial difficulties which have completely dismantled their first team. I’ve heard some complaining that the £12 million price tag is steep for a player that still has so much to prove, but in truth, that’s more than fair for a French prospect with questions marks around him, and the price would likely be closer to £20 million if Marseille wasn’t in such financial turmoil. It is perhaps best to look at it this way, Samir Nasri cost Arsenal £12 million seven years ago, and if Thauvin had a higher profile, NUFC wouldn’t even be in the race for his signature. Bayern Munich broke their transfer record to prise Ribéry away from Marseille, if Thauvin was that good, the only documented interest would be from potential Champions League winners.

As far as his play is concerned, I think the British media’s labelling of “inconsistent” is a bit harsh; for all three campaigns in the top flight, he’s been in the top 10 for dribbles per match, and last season he cracked the top 15 for key passes per match as well. He was typically used as a right-winger under Bielsa, but can play as a no. 10 or on the left-wing if required. Over three Ligue 1 seasons, he’s never played less than 35 matches in all competitions, so questions of fitness and susceptibility to injury can definitely be put to rest. He is a bit bigger than Cabella, and though his football IQ may not be as far along, bear in mind that he is three years younger. He sometimes tends to dribble one too many players rather than make the pass that he should, but a winger with not only the confidence to take on defenders, but the ability to beat them, gives any team an unpredictable attacking dynamic. His pass completion rate isn’t the highest, though in all fairness, he’s typically looking for the final pass rather than cycling the ball around the middle of the pitch. It is unlikely that Thauvin will immediately set the Premier League alight, but there are excellent chances this could prove a shrewd piece of business two to three seasons down the road.”

An extremely shrewd breakdown and while a majority of Newcastle fans felt like the board overpaid for Thauvin’s services, Jay backed them up and served quite a bit of positivity on the payment front. Of course some may say that Newcastle gave up on Cabella far too quickly, but bringing Thauvin in had much more to do with his “fit” on this roster and on the field than the player-for-player skill.

I’ve recently read that a major part of signing Florian Thauvin was about helping Aleksandar Mitrovic’s effectiveness as a target man. Newcastle United do not presently have an operational, true winger-type, that can whip a proper ball into the box; and this is where Mitrovic strives. In Thauvin, NUFC are getting a pacy winger with a ton of potential but it is up to McClaren to mask and help fertilize his development and potential.

We have now seen a CM, ST, CB and Winger through the window. £50 million worth of transfers and no one significant has departed the club. There are still some holes in this roster, LB and CB to be precise, but this is the first time in a long time that Newcastle fans cannot complain about the club not spending. Florian Thauvin has been compared to both Hatem Ben Arfa and Franck Ribéry in the past; for NUFC’s sake, hopefully he incorporates a mix of both players: the talent from Hatem and the world-class attitude and work ethic of Ribéry. To be frank, sources have reiterated that Thauvin is one of the nicest guys to walk through the St. James Park doors. Only time will tell; until then Newcastle United fans and Steve McClaren can only hope.

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