By Robin Bairner
Mathieu Debuchy's 20-year association with Lille came to an end when he joined Newcastle United on Friday.
During his time with the northern French outfit, the 27-year-old saw his side traverse from Ligue 2 into Champions League regulars, plus radical changes on a personal level, too.
Having initially started his career as a deep-lying central midfielder, it was found that Debuchy’s energy and flair for pushing forward was better utilised in the right-back role, where he excelled for les Dogues as they won Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France in 2010-11.
Long before then, the Fretin-born player was impressing with his solid defensive work, yet it was his offensive contribution that was the most eye-catching of his characteristics. Quick, athletic and attack minded, he is a full-back perfectly suited for the all-action modern game, particularly as he can provide excellent service on a regular basis from his flank.
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Certainly, he will relieve the unwanted situation of Davide Santon playing out of position on the right of the back four, and Newcastle fans should look forward to their new addition playing in a similar style to Cesar Azpilicueta at Chelsea.
Indeed, Debuchy would appear better placed to make an immediate impact at his new club. Not only is he a more mature and athletic character than the Spaniard, he will find a French enclave at St James’ Park that should quickly settle in.
Most notably, close friend and former Lille team-mate Yohan Cabaye, who has long been pushing for the arrival of his international colleague, will be waiting, and the midfielder is likely to take it upon himself to ensure Debuchy enjoys a smooth transition from the north-east of France to the north-east of England.
In France’s opening match of Euro 2012 against England, Debuchy showed why he has the potential to excel in the Premier League. He regularly raided forward to good effect, with his pace, strength and technique on full display, as well as his dead-eye crossing ability. For all of his desire to attack, though, his defensive duties were never neglected, and he was regularly found barring any progress down the right channel.
With only a year left to run on his contract at Lille, and with heads turned in his direction, leaving his formative club for the first time in his career suddenly looked like a probability. Unwilling to allow such a prized player to follow the irreplaceable Eden Hazard out of the club, president Michel Seydoux dug his heels in and rejected Newcastle’s initial advances, which came to the tune of €5 million [£4m] – a steal for a player of such quality.
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Though the summer attacks were seen off, Lille were always unlikely to dismiss a further winter raid, particularly after a disappointing campaign to date, and with the contract of the player quickly winding down, they have been left with little option but to sell.
Debuchy, whose performances last season even saw him tentatively rumoured to have interested Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, never made a secret of his desire to leave for the Toon, where he will join former Lille team-mate and best friend Cabaye.
"At times it was a decision that was difficult to deal with over the summer and, yes, I was disappointed," he confessed in an October interview with L’Equipe, and though he promised to give "200 per cent" for his club, the some of the gusto with which he had played previously was lost.
Nevertheless, the influence of the defender has remained great enough for club-mate Nolan Roux to already lament his loss, not only on the field but in the locker rooms too. "I am very happy for him, even if we will lose a very good player," he told RMC on Wednesday. "Mathieu is a person that I love."
Debuchy, however, will not find adoration hard to come by on Tyneside should he continue the form that he has shown in France. The fans of Newcastle will love his gallant offensive approach to the game, which should bring an extra dimension to their attacking play, while the move to England will allow the player the opportunity to earn the recognition that a full-back of his calibre deserves.
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