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Yanga-Mbiwa strengthens Tyneside's French revolution
MAPOU Yanga-Mbiwa became the eighth member of Newcastle's burgeoning French legion when he moved from Montpellier on Wednesday. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson met the towering centre-half and discussed the Magpies' growing Gallic influence
FOR most players arriving at a new club in a different country, the first training session is a step into the unknown. There are new team-mates to meet, a different language to master and little that feels familiar or comfortable.
This morning, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will take to the training field for the first time as a Newcastle United player following his £6.7m move from Montpellier. Any discomfort, however, will be a result of the freezing weather rather than anxiety about his new surrounds.
On the defender's right-hand side as Alan Pardew begins to tinker with his line-up will be Mathieu Debuchy, an opponent in Ligue One as recently as December. Further up the field will be Yohan Cabaye, a team-mate of Yanga-Mbiwa's during France's World Cup qualifying victories over Finland and Belarus in September. And on the sidelines completing his recovery from injury will be Hatem Ben Arfa, a player Yanga-Mbiwa rates as highly as any in French football.
The 23-year-old became the eighth French player to join the Magpies when he crossed the Channel this week, and the tally could rise as high as 11 if Massadio Haidara, Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko also complete their proposed moves.
No longer merely black-and-white, Tyneside has become red, white and blue. A full-blown French revolution is well and truly underway.
"Newcastle has always attracted French players," said Yanga-Mbiwa, who could prove a direct replacement for Fabricio Coloccini if the skipper leaves before the transfer window closes in a week's time. "Once one comes, it definitely sparks interest in others to come and play here.
"For example, Hatem Ben Arfa is here and now I am as well. And once that happens it will generate even more interest with other French players about coming the club.
"When you see that, it gives you the desire to come here, to play for Newcastle and discover the league for yourself.
"In the French national team, with so many of our players here, we would talk about the club when we met up. We discussed Newcastle a lot and that definitely helped with my decision. The fact there are so many French players here also meant Newcastle was on television back home far more than any of the other teams."
But might such a concentration of so many players from one country have an adverse effect on the spirit and morale of the non-Francophile members of the squad?
Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier feels this month's events could create problems within the dressing room, claiming it will be "totally unbalanced" because "you can't stop French people speaking French together".
In training, Newcastle's French players are expected to speak English and the club is doing all it can to ensure that integration is encouraged and enabled.
Yanga-Mbiwa was forced to speak through an interpreter yesterday, but he will be fast-tracked through English lessons, arranged by his employers.
"I speak a little English," he said, in the English tongue. "But the club is going to help me in terms of giving me any resource I need to learn English as quickly as possible. That will help me settle.
"And the fact there are so many French people here, and the fact the club showed their willingness to really support me and help me settle was very important. It will be a big help for me as I get used to the Premier League."
Ensuring this month's new arrivals hit the ground running could be crucial given Newcastle's position just two points above the relegation zone.
The Magpies can ill afford too many of their January signings taking months to acclimatise, yet past experience suggests the Premier League is not an easy environment to come to terms with.
Yanga-Mbiwa has swapped a Montpellier team that lifted the Ligue One title in May for a Newcastle side that are battling to remain in the top-flight.
But despite his new employers having won just two of their last 14 league matches, the imposing centre-half insists he is not concerned at the situation he has become embroiled in.
"In my own mind, Newcastle United is a massive football club," he said. "I don't have any ideas or thoughts about relegation going through my head. I believe that is not going to happen.
"I know where we are, I know our position in the league and it's not where this club should be. So it is definitely a big challenge and we, myself and the whole team, must move as fast as we can out of the relegation zone."
Beyond that, Yanga-Mbiwa has lofty ambitions for the remainder of his five-and-a-half year deal. Despite their current plight, Newcastle's European pedigree over the last two decades means they remain an established name on the continent.
The defender could represent the Magpies in this season's Europa League - one player is allowed to cross over from the Champions League so Alan Pardew will have to choose between Yanga-Mbiwa and Debuchy - but in the future, he is hoping to help his new employers back into Europe's premier competition.
"What do I want to achieve? I want to be a winner. I want to do my best for the team," he said. "I want us to be in a good position in the league and why not try to get some success in the cups, and reach the Champions League as well? And have some success in the Europa League."