By Robin Bairner
The ever-growing French contingent at St James’ Park is set to be added to imminently as Newcastle United are poised to sign Marseille striker Loic Remy for a fee expected to be in the region of £8.5 million.
Manager Alan Pardew has found the Ligue 1 market a profitable hunting ground over the last 18 months, as he has been able to pick up international-class players at appealing prices, and in forward Remy he may just have made another great coup.
Comparisons have been made between the 26-year-old and the legendary Thierry Henry, but these are not necessarily fair. While it is true that Remy is an athletic forward player capable of operating in the wide areas, his game does not especially resemble that of the ex-Arsenal hero.
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In truth, Remy’s career has never quite taken off as it might. He was overshadowed as he broke into Lyon’s first team by the likes of Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa, who were emerging at the same time, and as a result, he would never score a league goal for OL.
A spell at Nice followed, where he would live up to his billing as the club’s record signing, and despite attempts from Lyon to regain his services, it was a move to Marseille that really pushed Remy into the limelight.
At Stade Velodrome he started to be used as a centre forward on a more regular basis, although this almost came by chance due to a lack of form on the part of his team-mates. Nevertheless, playing through the middle best suited Remy’s skillset - and it still does.
Last term he displayed devastating form by scoring 22 goals in all competitions, the vast majority of which came in the second half of the campaign. By some distance this was his most prolific season, yet it would have an unhappy ending as injury prevented him from taking his place in Laurent Blanc's Euro 2012 squad, to which he would surely have added quality and another attacking dimension, having scored three times in his previous six outings for les Bleus.
But missing the summer’s European Championship was only the beginning of a troubling six-month period for the attacker. The niggles that prevented him from playing in Poland and Ukraine persisted into the early part of this campaign, and though he has theoretically been fit since mid-August, he has yet to find his best level in terms of his physical shape or his match sharpness.
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As a result, he has been toiling. Remy has registered only three times all season for OM, with two goals coming in a one-sided Europa League fixture against AEL Limassol and the other arriving as a meagre consolation as les Phoceens were humbled 4-1 by Lyon at home.
While a change will undoubtedly help to refresh the striker, Newcastle fans should not expect to see the best of the 17-time capped France international until he has regained his sharpness and his confidence. As such, he may be something of a long-term investment to replace Demba Ba as the vanguard of their offence, which could be deemed a risky policy given the club’s recent struggles.
In addition, by making this signing, Newcastle could be inadvertently weakening their position to sign another Ligue 1 prospect in the form of Toulouse’s Moussa Sissoko. Marseille are also interested in the powerful midfielder, and L’Equipe suggested they will use the money earned from the Remy deal to help secure his services ahead of the Magpies and Monaco.
Pardew, however, has an excellent record in the French market, and he is likely to see this gamble as providing value. If he can extract the best from Remy, he will have himself a dangerous centrepiece to his attack, and a player worth at least twice as much in the English market as his reported purchase fee.
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