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Opinion

Massadio Haidara experiences last gasp heartache in final match

5 months ago
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I never really knew what to make of Massadio Haidara.

The left-back had just turned 21 when arriving on Tyneside but already a regular in Ligue 1 with Nancy after 45 league matches, he looked a very decent prospect.

In only his second game though, after coming on a sub for Debuchy, Wigan’s Callum McManaman launched that cowardly assault on the young defender, Newcastle not even getting a free-kick.

Did that effectively end his Newcastle career before it started?

We’ll never know – but it certainly didn’t help and with injury and fitness problems, plus maybe struggling to deal with the mental side of things, we never found out what Massadio Haidara could potentially do.

In five and a half years he only started 23 league games, never having a proper run in the team, whether through form, fitness and/or injury.

Aged 25 and having wasted half a career at Newcastle United, the release at the end of his contract saw him join RC Lens on a free transfer last summer.

A big French club down on their luck in Ligue 2, speaking in December (see below) Massadio Haidara declared: ‘Newcastle is like a big Lens. When I arrived here that’s what I told myself. Racing (Club of Lens) passion immediately reminded me of Newcastle.’

We often forget how strong English football is in terms of depth, Lens ended this 2018/19 season with a home average attendance of 26,427. The next highest was 11,867 for Metz and only one other club in Ligue 2 managed to average 10,000 or more. In the English second tier only one of the 24 English clubs averaged less than 10,000, Rotherham with 9,880.

So a bit like Newcastle with their 51,000+ average in the 2016/17 Championship season, Lens stick out like a sore thumb in the French second tier, indeed they averaged more than Norwich and Sheffield United who were automatically promoted to the Premier League.

I have followed Massadio Haidara and Lens this season, mainly from afar, my wife’s sister has married a French bloke who just happens to support them (Lens).

I have been to watch them a few times over the course of the season and have been impressed by Haidara, as well as the passion and numbers of the Lens fans.

The left-back has ended the season with 33 league starts, at last proving his fitness and form after only 23 league starts in the five and a half years he was under contract at Newcastle United.

Sadly for Haidara, his teammates and the passionate fans, the season ended in last gasp agony.

Finishing fifth in the league (they led it early on), Lens played off against Troyes and Paris FC who finished third and fourth. The play-offs in France see the three second tier clubs who end up third, fourth and fifth, play amongst themselves with the winner of the trio then facing the club who finished the season third bottom in Ligue 1.

Lens made it to that final two legged play-off but after drawing 1-1 at home, they then lost 3-1 at Dijon on Sunday. Their promotion dream at an end.

Still only 26, it will be interesting to see what happens with Massadio Haidara now.

He has impressed and shown his fitness this season and I wonder if Ligue 1 clubs will now come and make offers?

Whether he stays or goes I will continue to go whenever I can to Lens matches when I get the chance. A big club still getting big crowds that has fallen on hard times, I think we can all relate to that.

Massadio Haïdara talking back in December (2018):

“I would not mind going back to England one day.

“It is a great country with a great championship.

“The atmosphere and everything related to football, it’s amazing. The bar is very high.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm and the whole country is running at the pace of football.

“When I went down (to the Championship) with Newcastle, we did not see any difference in the stands. There were as many people as usual. The stadium was full all the time: 52,000 people. It was wow! We did not understand (how we could get such big crowds after relegation).

“Newcastle is like a big Lens. When I arrived here that’s what I told myself. Racing (Club of Lens) passion immediately reminded me of Newcastle.

“In the near future, I hope that we will go up in Ligue 1. And stay there!

“If one day, we can play in a European Cup (competition), it would not be bad!

“I would like to be an  international. I want to progress over time and play the best competitions.

“Personal (life), I would like to have children and, once my career is over, do all I could not do as a footballer: eat what I want, travel more, etc …”

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