All good things must come to an end. Nineteen years after signing a youth contract at Lille from local club Fretin, the time has come for Mathieu Debuchy to leave his boyhood club and swap northern France for the North-East of England. The 27-year old joins up with good friend and former teammate Yohan Cabaye at Newcastle United for what looks like a bargain at £5 million.
Rumours of a move to England played out all through the summer after a successful showing at Euro 2012. Debuchy’s stock had never been higher: impressing against England in the opening game of the tournament it looked like the right-back was ready to take full advantage of Bacary Sagna’s injury and raise his profile on the big stage.
It was clear that the player wanted to take the next step in his career but Lille boss Rudi Garcia was determined to dig in his heels and keep the player for another 12 months. Young right-back Djibril Sidibe moved from Troyes for just over €2 million and the rumours increased that his signing would give Debuchy the green light to join the French contingent at Newcastle.
Lille’s asking price of around €10 million didn’t quite match Newcastle’s valuation and the move stuttered, never really edging towards a conclusion. In the end Debuchy resigned himself to another 12 months in France and his move would have to wait. Then after a disastrous Champions League performance from Les Dogues things started to change at the club, changes that sparked Debuchy’s hasty exit.
Lille’s number 1 and France’s third choice goalkeeper Mickael Landreau ended his contract at the club and left without even waiting for the transfer window to open. A former member of Garcia’s group of elders, his position at the club had deteriorated and he was no longer looked upon as an important influence at the club. The same, it seems, has happened to Debuchy. Only last week he was quoted in French newspaper l’Equipe, stating that he wouldn’t leave in the January window:
“The sport situation is not very good at the club now, but I don’t have real desire to leave in January and abandon my team.
“I would like to end the season here, even if things could happen quickly.
“No one at Lille has told me ‘you have to leave in January because we have money trouble’, but if an offer comes along and it would satisfy everyone…”
“I have not changed my mind in six months about England and Newcastle.”
Nine days later a deal has been agreed by both clubs and the player will travel to England this week for a medical. The fee agreed is the same price that Newcastle offered in the summer, so what’s happened to push this through in the January sales?
The club will never admit it publicly but Debuchy should have been sold in the summer. Playing the best football of his career, helping Lille win the double in 2011, then finish 3rd in 2012, his valuation at 27 years old would never get any higher. Waiting for 12 months to let the player go would only see his price go down. To any Lille fan watching the right-back’s performances this season it was clear that his mind was no longer in Lille. The player wanted to move, was forced to stay, an injury meant that he started the season late after the European Championships. This was not the player who had been outstanding for two seasons.
Rudi Garcia had hoped that Debuchy’s dedication to his club would outweigh his desire to leave France. After 19 years of unquestionable service to the club it’s not surprising that Debuchy’s mind has wandered and the performances at times have lacked the same energy and desire that used to be a constant in the “Bionic Man’s” game. He no longer looked like an indispensable member of the team.
The fans have not shown any ill feeling towards Debuchy, born and bred 7 miles from the new Grand Stade Lille Metropole. Debuchy is one of them, and always will be. Now it is up to the player to put the last four months behind him and get back to doing what he does best. When he is playing to his best there are very few players who can match Debuchy’s desire to attack down the flanks but also work his socks off to fulfil his defensive duties.
Debuchy broke into the first team in 2004, making his debut against Metz. Starting his career as a defensive midfielder he was then moved to the wing by Claude Puel. A knee injury halted his progress but he would come back better than ever. By 2008 Rudi Garcia was in charge and after Mathieu Chalme and Stephane Lichtsteiner left the club the new manager made the decision to try his hard-working midfielder at right-back. After initial scepticism the move was a great success. Once he adapted to his defensive duties his desire to break forward and the natural attacking instincts that came from playing in midfield made him an exciting option down the flank.
When given licence to push forward Debuchy is a very dangerous asset. Two goals and three assists during Lille’s title winning run showed what he was capable of and then last season he was superb, scoring five goals and at times as crucial to Lille’s game-plan as Eden Hazard. The balance of the Championship team was perfect. Debuchy was allowed to attack in the knowledge that the midfield trio of Yohan Cabaye, Rio Mavuba and Florent Balmont were there to cover him. This season with Mavuba and Balmont two years older and Cabaye now a distant memory the protection for the full-back has lacked at times and Lille’s high-line has been punished. Now at Newcastle, Debuchy will be able to reignite his role beside Cabaye, with Cheik Tiote and Vurnon Anita adding further protection.
There is no doubting Debuchy’s ability in being able to make the jump to the Premier League. He will be hungry and determined to show that he deserved the move four months ago and that his performances at Euro 2012 were no flash in the pan. Lille are losing a player who has been an integral part of the first team for the best part of a decade, a player who has been one of the first names on Rudi Garcia’s team-sheet for the past five seasons and a player who the fans will dearly miss.
Newcastle United are getting a player who will not only bring a dedication and desire to always work hard for his team but also an excellent defender who is always willing to attack at the faintest hint of opportunity. If Alan Pardew gives Debuchy the freedom to push forward and provide a presence in the final third then there is no doubt Newcastle have signed an excellent player, and at £5 million, a bargain.
Merci beaucoup Monsieur Debuchy. Au revoir.