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FEATURE: Remy Cabella: The Worst Behind Him

Jeffrey Gamby-Boulger examines Newcastle Frenchman Remy Cabella’s progress in the Premier League.

After a productive final season in Ligue 1, with his quality and energetic displays establishing him as one of France’s most promising creative talents for the future, 2014-2015 was supposed to be a step forward in the emerging career of Remy Cabella. 6 months on and currently injured, only having recently regained a first team place with the Magpies, his campaign so far has been less than impressive, but Newcastle fans and French football need not lose faith just yet.

The season started brightly for the Frenchman from Ajaccio. An energetic display in a 2-0 loss against reigning champions Manchester City was a taste of things to come for Newcastle fans. His pace and trickery, and penchant for the extravagant ensured he was the name on the lips of the home fans. While it would be inevitable the former Ligue 1 star would need time to adjust to the bristling intensity of the Premier League, his debut offered a glimpse of what the Toon Army could look forward to.

Unfortunately, Remy Cabella’s dazzling display only served as brief respite to an otherwise challenging start to the campaign for Newcastle. With draws against Hull City and Aston Villa, and a 4-0 loss against Ronald Koeman’s new look Southampton, only a thrilling 3-2 win against Crystal Palace in the League Cup offered a brief glimpse of light to an otherwise terrible start to the 2014-2015 season that saw the club in the relegation zone after six games played.

Culminating in a 1-0 loss to Stoke City, the Newcastle fans began their protests and things looked bleak for manager Alan Pardew after a dismal start to the campaign.

He survived, and oversaw a dramatic turnaround with the club going on to win 6 of the next 6 games, starting with a 2-0 win at Manchester City in the next round of the League Cup, along with an impressive 2-1 league win at home to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea despite having goalkeeper Rob Elliot injured in the first half and central defender Steven Taylor sent off.

Cabella’s influence on this reversal in fortune however was slight, with the Frenchmen preferred as an impact substitute as he got to grips with the physicality and intensity of the English game. And so far this season with 23 appearances in total with 14 starts and 9 coming as a replacement, this is a consistent trend that epitomises Cabella’s unspectacular arrival to English shores.

Amid frequent calls from Alan Pardew that he was simply not ready for a starting berth, frustration from the fans started to appear for the first time at his perceived love of unnecessary trickery with the ball, along with his tendency to surrender possession. Cabella cut a frustrated future of someone trying too hard at times and one could have understandably feared for his future so early.

However despite these failings, the overriding belief he could inject some much needed flair and technical ability into the Newcastle team were evident.

It is testimony to his character that he took this reduced role with his new big money move head on and never shied away from the hard work needed to regain his first team place.

With an opportunity to spend time to work on his conditioning and enhance his slight frame for the rigour of Premier League football, Cabella did not take the same route as others might have, and interviews always had the positive former Montpellier man speaking of his need to improve, to do better.

The club’s inconsistent start to the season has continued, and with only brief substitute appearances to his name it was clear Cabella’s confidence was beginning to understandably wain. It must be noted that on-going off-field issues for Newcastle have served as a distraction, including the owner Mike Ashley’s apparent boardroom influence on Scottish side Rangers FC, and first team member Jonas Gutierrez’s widely publicised battle with testicular cancer.

As for Cabella, despite authentic performances in the Newcastle midfield, Pardew was leaving the player out cold all too often for a player of his calibre. Utilised as a winger, drifting in and out of games unable to make his mark, Pardew’s cautious approach and reluctance to give the Frenchman a more prominent central role meant that the Cabella’s form in his brief cameo appearances suffered, and fans were left wondering if they had seen their club work hard to sign a player who was just not going to cut it in their league, while the powers that be would be left wondering when they would start to see some results for their investment.

Thankfully, things have started to improve in recent weeks and Newcastle fans should not lose hope with Cabella just yet. With Pardew leaving mid-season to join Crystal Palace on a three-and-a-half-year contract, former first team assistant manager John Carver has been left to step up to his first senior management role in the Premier League for the remainder of the season.

Pardew’s former right hand man, some could argue that a first senior job in management at a club as big as Newcastle would have meant more time on the sidelines for the Frenchmen, with the head coach sticking with tried and trusted options to see out the season. Indeed, with Carver’s only previous experience in club management being an ill-fated stint in the MLS with American side Toronto, few could forgive Cabella for fearing for his own future.

Fortunately for the Toon army and French football the second half to the season has seen a distinct improvement from the Frenchman. Amid a recall to the first team from Carver and a more prominent attacking approach on the field, Cabella has been able to find some much needed consistency to reignite his fledgling Newcastle career.

Often labelled too fragile by the at times cautious Alan Pardew, under a newfound, slightly more attacking approach Cabella has begun to finally find his feet in the English game and influence matches with the sort of pace and trickery the Toon army envisaged after his promising league debut. The player himself has spoken of his delight and being put back into the first team and his recent performances certainly reflect that.

Cabella has shown that he has the ability to consistently affect games with his movement and flair, and with 24 goals in a total of 97 appearances for Montpellier, including 14 goals with 5 assists for the 2013-2014 campaign, he has an end product to his game as well as the technical dexterity.

There is no better example of a man being on the rise than his first goal for the club in a 3-0 win against Hull in January to confirm his improving form. After losing possession on the edge of the opponents’ area, instead of waiting for the referee to blow for a foul that would not come as he was often seen doing in his first months with the club, he quickly picked himself up, snapped into another challenge to win the ball back and with one slight feint slammed the ball home with his weaker foot.

It was a superb first goal, which along with his overall recent rejuvenation, earned him the Newcastle fans’ January player of the month award. Cabella will be hoping that this is the first of many.

Indeed, such is his improvement after several man of the match displays in recent weeks, that after being substituted in their 1-1 draw with Stoke in February, Cabella was visibly angry and his poor reaction is testament to his regained confidence and place in the first team.

After missing several weeks through injury at just the wrong time with the player coming into some good form again at last, the jury is still out on whether Cabella can hit the heights his debut promised and display the kind of ability that made him one of France’s most exciting prospects.

But the signs that he has finally arrived in the Premier League are apparent and if the player can continue his recent good run of form on his return to action against Everton later this month, then Newcastle fans can look forward to the success that Remy Cabella has the potential to bring them in the forthcoming months and seasons. 

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