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Opinion

‘The Allan Saint-Maximin Facade – Don’t Be Fooled!’

2 weeks ago
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The only thing more disturbing than Newcastle’s inept display yesterday evening, was reading the post-match player reviews from fans, pundits and local journalists alike that somehow bewilderingly identified Allan Saint-Maximin as Newcastle’s star performer on the night.

I think I must have been watching another game.

As all I witnessed from Newcastle’s enigmatic French winger was more erratic wing play, mainly involving running into blind channels and opposition players, or falling over once he had needlessly lost possession.

On the one occasion he did reach the byline, his aimless hit across the box and failure to pick out a teammate seemed to encapsulate the lack of end-product he has delivered so far in his Newcastle career.

The worrying lack of composure in the final third from one of the team’s primary creative outlets is the main reason he has failed to provide one direct assist or goal this season.

Under Mike Ashley ownership, Newcastle’s sole raison d’etre is merely to stay afloat in the Premier League. Within the context, and bound by financial restraints, Benitez quite rightly and understandably took a pragmatic approach to management, getting the most out of a limited squad by playing compact, defensive and rigid football.

Given the complete dearth of quality attacking football Newcastle fans have witnessed over the past few years, it comes as no surprise that Saint-Maximin’s attacking intent has provided some much needed entertainment in otherwise turgid counter-attacking displays.

However, given the bar is now so low at Newcastle, a quite alarming and deeply troubling trend has emerged amongst Newcastle fans, where they now judge the quality of a winger’s performance on the basis of their willingness to tackle back (i.e. Matt Ritchie) or run at opposition defenders (i.e. Allan Saint-Maximin). The only genuine measure of a winger’s quality and value to the team, is not in the volume of dribbles or tackles they make, but in the number of goals and assists they deliver. Unfortunately, measured against this basic benchmark, Saint-Maximin is currently falling woefully short of requirements.

Newcastle have been treated to a wealth of high quality international wingers during the Premier League era. I am sure we all remember fondly watching David Ginola effortlessly glide past opponents, Nolberto Solano picking out precision passes and Laurent Robert smashing home free-kicks with consummate regularity. These players delivered goals and assists week in week out for Newcastle and until Allan Saint-Maximin starts doing similar, he cannot be considered in the same breath as these Newcastle greats.

In fact, at this moment in time, it would even be unfair to judge him against wingers of lesser ilk including Stephen Glass or Geremi, who at least had goals and assists against their names. Saint-Maximin is young and there are signs of potential there, but unless he starts delivering end product, it is hard to merit his place in the side, especially when Christian Atsu is Newcastle’s leading provider this season with half the game time.

The same argument can also be levied against poor Almiron, who last night looked completely devoid of ideas and confidence. Like Saint-Maximin, there is clearly some potential there and I think his underlying qualities as a footballer would have been utilised more effectively under the careful guidance and tutelage of Benitez.

Unfortunately, Steve Bruce does not have the same level of football nous to get the best out of Almiron and it does not help matters that he continuously plays him out of position on the right-hand side. Almiron is clearly struggling with this role, so unless Bruce is willing to play him centrally or shift flanks with Saint Maximin, there is little reason to keep him in the side.

Dwight Gayle looked fit and sharp when he came on last night and should probably be given a run in the team in place of Almiron on the right-hand side of the front three. We should remember that Gayle made some impressive performances in the second striker role alongside Joselu during Benitez’s first season back in the Premier League. Indeed, it is arguable that Gayle has a better footballing brain than either Saint-Maximin or Almiron, not to mention being a more prolific goal scorer, so he justifies a starting place in the side on that basis.

The time has now definitely come to give Joelinton a rest from the side so he can take stock from his Premier League experience so far, while let’s finally turn our attention to Deandre Yedlin.

Yedlin is a definite upgrade on Emil Krafth and his return to the side had appeared to contribute to some greater defensive cohesion and solidarity, until yesterday evening that is, when old habits died hard. Yedlin does not appear to have learned from previous seasons’ repetitive mistake of giving away needless fouls and penalties when caught out of possession. His rash decision-making has cost Newcastle a considerable number of points over the last few seasons and his failure to learn should lead to his removal from the side.

Given Newcastle have a number of good quality centre-backs at their disposal, there is a strong rationale for giving Fabian Schär a run at right wing-back. He naturally gravitates to the right wing from the centre anyway and is superior to Yedlin both on the ball and defensively, so this would appear to be a sound move.

Newcastle fans have enjoyed a rich history of mercurial and entertaining wingers that have supplied assists and scored goals in equal quantities – the only true measures of a winger’s quality.

Allan Saint-Maximin has yet to deliver against these important measurements and Newcastle fans should not be fooled by a mesmerising run or majestic step over – it is time to start demanding substance over style!

I would perhaps persist with Saint-Maximin for the time being, but unless he starts delivering end product soon, it may be time to cash in, as there will always be one rich owner who has been equally duped by the Saint-Maximin façade.

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