Newcastle sign French star Romain Amalfitano
Newcastle United took the latest step in their successful French revolution yesterday when Romain Amalfitano arrived in the North-east to finalise a three-year contract.
The Stade de Reims midfielder agreed in principle to move to Newcastle in February, and he returned to their Benton training ground to push through his transfer from the French side, who have just won promotion to Ligue 1.
Amalfitano, 22, has seen out his contract at Reims, which has appealed to Newcastle officials as they push ahead with the astute transfer policy put in place by the owner Mike Ashley, and successfully incorporated through the chief scout, Graham Carr.
Newcastle have seven France-born players, ranging from first-teamers such as Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa to youngsters such as Yven Moyo and Mehdi Abeid. They believe the market in France offers far better value for money, with salaries in the French top division for the season 2010-11 half those in the Premier League.
As examples, Cabaye and Ben Arfa, who were key players in the club's eventual fifth-place finish in the Premier League and resultant qualification for the Europa League, cost far less than £10m in total, arriving from Lille and Marseilles respectively.
Amalfitano, the brother of Morgan, also a midfielder who moved to Marseilles last summer and has been included in the provisional France squad for the forthcoming European Championship, is expected to be pushing for a first-team role next season. Newcastle will not end their interest in France with his signing, either, as they hope to buy two further players from Ligue 1 during the summer transfer window.
The club have already been involved in talks with the Montpellier defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. The 23-year-old has just helped his team land the title in France, for the first time, and there is huge interest in dismantling a side that was put together for very little.
Newcastle are aware they face competition for the central defender, but believe they currently lead the race to land Yanga-Mbiwa as he has indicated he is keen to move to the club.
There is also an approach to Lille to sign their full-back Mathieu Debuchy. The 26-year-old bid an emotional farewell to his club's supporters on Sunday following their 4-1 victory over Nancy. That is seen as the surest indication yet that he is ready to end his 18-year association with Lille, whom he joined as an eight-year-old. That Debuchy is such a good friend of Cabaye is seen as a huge advantage to Newcastle, as they search for a new right-back.
The three moves continue what Newcastle now believe to be a far superior model to that which was used when Ashley first bought the club in 2007, and indeed to the ones used in most Premier League clubs. Carr has an excellent knowledge of French and Dutch football and has pinpointed a handful of players he believes are ready to make an impact in England.
The FC Twente defender Douglas was another who was the subject of good reports, but talks stalled due to the number of representatives the player had, a fact that has been a difficulty in negotiations with Demba Ba, who could still leave Newcastle this summer for around £7m.
Danny Simpson's long-running contract battle at St James' Park looks set to end with the former Manchester United defender leaving this summer. He is likely to be joined by Danny Guthrie, who had interested Aston Villa before they sacked Alex McLeish.
One player who could yet return to Newcastle – and in doing so highlight why they adopted their current policy in the market – is the Spanish forward Xisco, signed on the recommendation of Dennis Wise in 2008. Xisco was loaned to Deportivo La Coruna last season, but as there is no desire to make the deal permanent (his wages are £2.5m per year) he could yet return for the final 12 months of his contract.
Carr's targets to buy
Born 27 August 1989, Nice, France
Position Attacking midfielder
2009-10 Evian; 22 games, three goals
2010-12 Reims; 58 games, six goals
23-year-old is a versatile defender who has just helped Montpellier win Ligue 1 and has been capped by France Under-21s. France international Mathieu Debuchy, 26, plays at right-back for Lille, where he won the double in 2010-11.
Foreign Legion: Newcastle's French contingent
Hatem Ben Arfa
Signed from Marseilles (initial loan), Aug 2010
Signed Sochaux B, September 2010
Signed Lille, June 2011
Signed Rennes, June 2011
Signed Manchester United, August 2011
Mehdi Abeid (Algerian, born in Montreuil, Fr)
Signed Lens, May 2011
Demba Ba (Senegalese, born in Paris, Fr)
Signed Free agent, June 2011