How to Help a Side Lost in Translation
With Newcastle's current woes being well publicised, their now famous policy of looking to bring in cheap but talented players from Ligue 1 in France is coming under very heavy scrutiny due to its increasing influence - 6 of the 11 that started last weekend's game against West Ham spoke French as a first language, and it would surely have been 7 had Debuchy not been suspended.
Many are starting to feel that this excess of Francophone players is having a negative impact on the squad, some wiser than most in matters of football – Gary Neville suggested that having such a situation leads to the forming of cliques and is very heavily damaging to team spirit.
Moreover, it is possible to imagine many situations which could be worsened under these circumstances – an Alan Pardew team talk is hardly likely to have the same effect and benefits if half the players don’t understand his instructions, and the likes of Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini will hardly feel comfortable with most of their teammates conversing with each other in a language they don’t understand.
However, it is not the first time that a side has appeared to lose its local identity.
Another other memorable circumstance in which there was a dominance of people who spoke one language (other than English) in a Premier League side was the predominantly Spanish-speaking Liverpool side of Rafa Benitez between 2005 and 2010. In that case problems were averted by Benitez who set out to avoid the forming of cliques and the exclusion of non-Spanish speaking players.
He introduced policies such as forcing all Spaniards and South Americans to learn English very quickly and a seating rotation scheme at mealtimes to prevent anybody from sitting with the same people every time they went to eat, ensuring everyone got to know each other.
However, it does not appear that Pardew has tried to prevent these potential division from occurring. And now, Newcastle have a situation in which the majority of their players can exclude a smaller but highly important minority – the likes of Krul, Coloccini, Taylor, and Gutierrez are key players who start week in week out but cannot communicate easily with a large portion of the squad.
Whether this communication barrier is directly causing the poor season Newcastle have had is another matter entirely, but what is clear is that the current philosophy, whilst having allowed the uncovering of cheap gems such as Sissoko, Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Cisse, needs changing.
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