Newcastle taking the Haidara road with Nancy fullback Massadio


Two weeks ago not many people knew the name Massadio Haidara but in true transfer window style his name has been plastered all over the French and English media, linking the Nancy fullback with a move to the English Premier League with Newcastle United. Bids have been made, and rejected, other clubs are interested and events seem to change daily. One thing seems certain; the defender with one of the best names in football will be leaving Ligue 1 this winter.

Only 20 years of age, there is no doubt that Haidara’s ascent to this point has been as rapid as it is impressive. There must be something in the water as he is yet another player to come from the Ile-de-France region of France. Born west of the country’s capital just beyond the Gardens of Versailles in the town of Trappes, the French youth international joined the Nancy youth set-up aged just 15.

After making his debut under Uruguayan coach Pablo Correa against Sochaux in the 2010/11 season, the 18-year old was thrown straight into the deep end the very next week at home against Paris Saint Germain. Up against the vastly more experienced Ludovic Giuly and attacking full-back Christophe Jallet, Haidara was superb as ASNL shocked the capital side with a 2-0 win. Not a bad way to start your career.

Under Correa the young Haidara played 10 games that season, but it wasn’t until Jean Fernandez took over the next season that he really showed his potential. Nancy had a superb season and went on to finish in 11th place. Haidara, along with Bakaye Traore, Lossemy Karaboue and Yohan Mollo, was easily one of the best players in the side and was making a name as one of Ligue 1’s best young prospects.

With Jean Fernandez as Nancy coach they would set up to play either a back four or a versatile back five with Haidara playing as a traditional left-back or left wing-back, and in either set-up you would find the defender marauding forward and joining the attacks. The relationship he created with the now Saint-Etienne winger Yohan Mollo was a great part of Nancy’s success. Mollo’s ability to cut inside and create space gave Haidara a great opportunity to burst forward. He still needs to improve his distribution and decision-making, as he has the chance to be much more effective in the final third, but that will come with time.

The new season hasn’t been as kind to Nancy or Haidara. Traore, Mollo and Coach Fernandez have left, and the results have been near disastrous. A win over Brest on the opening day was followed up with a fantastic performance away at Lille as they ruined the opening of the Grand Stade Lille Metropole – I had to sell my xbox to make sure I didn’t miss this historic game – as Nancy shocked the home fans by taking the lead and held off the 2011 Champions for a fantastic away point; any optimism was then dashed as they would lose nine of their next ten games. Routed firmly to the bottom of the table, the success of last season seems a long way away.

Defensively, things have not been great this season; only new boys Troyes and Bastia have conceded more goals. Fernandez is a coach known for his organisational skills and ability to make his teams hard to beat, so when that falls apart, and you add issues with some of his players, it was time for the coach to move on. Some of Nancy’s defending has been laughable at times, and Haidara has not been exempt from making mistakes, but with a lack of leadership, experience and guidance it has been a shame to see such a talented player suffer from playing in a team so devoid of any confidence.

There is no doubt that he has the raw elements to become a very good player; in what is fast becoming the French style he loves to get forward but never shirks his defensive duties.  A good defender who times his tackles well, he can sometimes get caught out of position, but he is intelligent and willing to learn from his mistakes. He makes good runs off the ball and comes across as an all-round confident player.

Last season, compared to Newcastle United’s new right-back Mathieu Debuchy, all the stats showed Haidara matched up fairly close to the former Lille defender; of course it is easier for a defender in a weaker team to attempt more tackles and complete more clearances and interceptions simply through more opportunity, but there is no doubt in the potential he possesses.

Massadio Haidara started the transfer window relatively unknown to anyone outside of Ligue 1, but now his name has been linked all over Europe, especially on the lips of Newcastle fans. Haidara was due to be named as one of the players in French Football Weekly’s Le50 guide to the best young players in France. Only time would tell if Haidara will become another young player gone too soon, as no matter where he goes he needs to play games to develop. Sitting on the bench will not be beneficial to Massadio’s career.

It looks like Le50 will soon become Le49.

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