It’s been two and a half years since that fervent wave of Francophilia swept over St. James’ Park. Baguettes and berets are seldom seen in the Gallowgate end these days, support for the imports waning through their complicity in three disappointing seasons.
Chances of a themed day replete with blonde wigs, call girls and class C drugs are slim to none – once bitten and all that – but this Orange revolution has the potential to succeed where its French precursor failed.*
(Craig is one of our ever expanding team of regular/irregular writers, send in your original articles for our website to [email protected] and share them with the world – all views are the author’s own etc etc)
United might have spent the first month of 2013 buying its players in bulk from Calais’ duty-free, but before the start of the current window, the Dutch contingent was already up to four – a tentative five if you include Belgium-bred Cheick Tiote.
Their significance to the side was not keenly felt as the Toon windmilled their way down the table, with only Daryl Janmaat emerging as a consistently key performer.
The piecemeal assembly of an Oranje squad was always going to step up a notch once Steve McClaren took the reins. He will forever be known as the wally with the brolly, but he’s a wally with an Eredivisie championship on his resume – ideal for conducting business in the fertile Low Countries market.
These fledgling links to the Netherlands were clearly of importance to Gini Wijnaldum, the in-demand playmaker thrilled to start his Premier League education in the comforting presence of compatriots. Likewise, the squad demographics favour forays into the neighbouring Jupiler League.
Almost 60% of Belgians primarily speak Dutch; the other 40% are French speakers. Over half of its inhabitants know English as a second language. One suspects that Aleksandar Mitrovic (and, fingers crossed, Chancel Mbemba) will fit in just fine.
That much is true in every respect.
Unlike previous signings from across the Channel, Newcastle’s newer breed look physically better suited to the rough and tumble of England’s top flight. They are products of renowned academies like Ajax’s De Toekomst and Feyenoord’s Varkenoord, where technical development takes precedence over the physical.
Full internationals and leaders of men, the more recent acquisitions come at a higher price than deals previously brokered in Ligue 1, but paradoxically represent less of a gamble.
It’s not just the new boys who will need to perform in the black and white.
McClaren needs to get the best out of the existing Dutchmen within the squad – particularly Siem de Jong and Cheick Tiote. The former Ajax star’s impending Premier League return is not being heralded as the equivalent of a new signing, but a fully-fit Siem is certainly a bonus, and the prospect of a link-up with Wijnaldum through the middle, is nothing if not tantalising.
Tiote, meanwhile, desperately needs to recapture the form that brought him to Tyneside in the first place. Back then, his old boss at Twente gave him a glowing endorsement on his departure. Should McClaren fail to revitalise his former charge, the Ivorian might be leaving his company on rather different terms this time.
There are still more pressing issues to be resolved before Southampton come to town, the sourcing of another centre-half – Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord), perhaps, if the Oranje trend persists – still topping the agenda.
But the seismic shift away from the barren landscape of France and towards the fertile Low Countries should be cause for cautious optimism. The wooden clogs won’t grace the steps at St. James’ any time soon, but the Holland shirt might get an iron, just in case.
* The actual Orange Revolution took place in Ukraine in late 2004. The less said about NUFC’s transfer activity there, the better.