DURING the first half of Sunday night’s World Cup final, a Newcastle United fan followed Remy Cabella around the city’s streets in the hope of catching a glimpse of his beloved club’s latest recruit. Rather than watch history unfold as Germany won in the Maracana, the Magpies were the only thing on the supporter’s mind.
Eventually, after waiting at Newcastle’s training complex and then following a people carrier to St James’ Park, the Geordie in question, Martin Trinder, got the shot he wanted. He ended up taking a selfie with Cabella on the Barrack Road entrance to St James’ Park before official news of the player’s arrival had come from the Premier League club.
Madness? Crazy? Loyal? Call it what you like, but his determination proved once more that football fans love a big signing. Newcastle fans certainly do. And Cabella is one of those, regardless of whether or not Newcastle have got him at a knock-down £7m price.
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The best clubs in Europe have kept an eye on the Montpellier man over the last few years, with Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Manchester United among those to have been to the Stade de La Mosson on a regular basis to monitor his progress.
Newcastle’s chief scout Graham Carr has been there more than most, compiling reports to highlight to the decision makers at St James’ Park that this player is worth investing in. Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s wealthy – albeit prudent – owner, would not have given the go-ahead for the purchase unless he felt it represented good value for money.
He has always wanted Cabella for lower than the previously reputed £13m asking price, which is why the deal did not take place in January when Newcastle tried to do business.
Once Cabella has returned from a short holiday to the French island of Corsica, where he was brought up by his Corsican mother and Italian father, he will begin pre-season training with his new team-mates.
Then all the focus will be on preparing for English football, where he has always had an ambition to play because he watched Frenchmen like Thierry Henry and David Ginola shine during his schoolboy days on TV. St James’ Park has had its fair share of men hailing from across the English Channel, and still does.
“Maybe I could have gone to other leagues, but the Premier League is the one that interests me the most. It’s the best league in the world and I can’t wait to get started,” said Cabella, chatting and smiling underneath the Milburn Stand yesterday after signing a six-year contract.
“The Premier League has some of the best teams in the world and I’m looking forward to facing some of these teams. Growing up I loved to watch the Premier League, these teams, because it was some of the best football you could see.
“I remember watching David Ginola and I know all about Eric Cantona’s time in England. It’s true a lot of French players come over to England as well as the bigger names and really develop as footballers. I want to really develop while I’m here with Newcastle. That was one of the main reasons I decided to come here, because I think I can develop. I can’t wait, it’s exciting.”
Football became the only sport he was interested in when he was younger and his talent earned him a deal with Corsican club Ajaccio before Montpellier took him to their academy when he was 14 and he won the Youth Cup there.
After recovering from a serious knee injury which kept him out of pretty much the entire 2009-10 campaign, he started to prove his worth in the pro ranks when he returned from a loan at Aries-Avignon the following year. On his return he became a more prominent part of the Montpellier squad and helped them to the Ligue 1 title for the first time in 2012.
That was when Carr, Newcastle’s chief scout, had really started to recommend Cabella to Alan Pardew but, like so many European clubs, Montpellier president Louis Nicollin’s claims that it would ‘take more than €100m’ to convince him to sell proved a stumbling block.
Newcastle, having bided their time, eventually got Montpellier down to a figure they were happier to pay. Ahead of the competition, Newcastle sealed the deal – and former captain Yohan Cabaye helped.
“Yohan gave me lots of good advice on Newcastle as a city and a club,” said Cabella, who has spent the last month with Cabaye on World Cup duty with France. “He spoke well of the support of the fans here. I am very happy to be here, very proud to be here. All I heard was nice things from the guys in the France squad.
“When my agent told me that Newcastle were really pushing for me It was important to know. I am just happy that Montpellier, my club, and Newcastle managed to get on well so the deal could be made.
“I had been watching a lot of Newcastle’s matches from back in France because of the French players that Newcastle have had playing for them and because I had read about the interest they had in me. Newcastle look a really good team and I am looking forward to playing with this team and seeing what the best we can do.”
Cabella scored 14 goals in a poorly performing Montpellier side last season, in a creative playmaker role just behind the striker.
He said: “I am very much like this when I’m on the pitch, smiling, because I am a very easy going and happy-go-lucky type of guy who just loves life. I just love football, that is my life and that is who I am.”