Saturday 09 March 2013

Auclair: Newcastle's Sissoko 'loves the big stage'

In the first of our Q&As with Philippe Auclair, we learn the inside line on Newcastle's Moussa Sissoko

  • Moussa Sissoko says he is loving life at Newcastle

  • The player was deployed in a more defensive midfield role at Toulouse

  • Philippe Auclair believes he could solve a problem area in France's national team

  • Sissoko has already scored three Barclays Premier League goals since his January arrival

Moussa Sissoko is having the time of his life at Newcastle United and flourishing in his more liberating role as an attacking midfielder, according to French football writer Philippe Auclair.

Premierleague.com recently spoke to France Football’s Philippe Auclair to get the lowdown on the new recruits from Ligue 1, the first instalment of which begins with a player the French writer believes is the pick of the crop.

Premierleague.com: Moussa Sissoko has scored three goals already in the Barclays Premier League. Are you surprised at how he appears to have landed on his feet?

Philippe Auclair: If you talk to people from Toulouse, which is where he was beforehand, a number are quite surprised at the way he has ‘exploded’ at Newcastle, but there are two main reasons. Firstly, if you look at Ligue 1 and the way they play, the tactical systems and the instructions given to the players, it is a very defensive league, and Toulouse, perhaps because they are not one of the big clubs, are more cautious than most.

"He loves the big stage, he loves that people have sung his song so quickly. When we talked to him about it he had this big smile across his face"
Philippe Auclair

Secondly, in the case of Sissoko, he was never really used in his proper position. Sometimes he would be deployed on the right and as a midfielder and a little bit closer to the attacking players, but generally speaking he was used as a No 6 or a No 8 alongside Etienne Capoue.

I remember talking to Jean-Michel Larqué, the former captain of St Etienne, who is a respected pundit in France. We were talking about Sissoko and Jean-Michel said, "It’s a bit of a waste because this guy has got the qualities to be far more than a defensive player or destroyer."

He’s far more at ease in a more advanced position. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge surprise to see him succeed at Newcastle because people have been aware of his qualities for a long time in France; it’s just he was not put in a position where he could really flourish.

PL.com: So Alan Pardew has brought the best out of him by pushing him further upfield.
PA:
Yes, the way he’s used at Newcastle, I would call it an advanced 10 or 9½, is perfectly suited to his capacities and as you know in terms of his athletic qualities, he’s just a monster. He’s a beast, the guy. So the Sissoko we were hoping to see in France, that we couldn’t see because of the way he was deployed at Toulouse, where he had been for some 11 years (even though he’s not a Southerner, he comes from a Parisian banlieue).

PL.com: Do you think the switch could help him further his international career?
PA:
If he could show these qualities consistently and become a fixture in that Newcastle side it will be very, very interesting thing for [France coach] Didier Deschamps because his profile is not something we use in the French team at the moment. France’s attacking midfielders are smaller, very technical, crafty players - Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena, Samir Nasri; Marvin Martin; a fit Yoann Gourcuff - but we don’t have this kind of attacking, driving force in midfield.

Sissoko solves the 'Diaby problem', up to a point. Abou Diaby, in terms of pure talent, is a very fine player, and was "the solution" (ie a player who can tackle, drive forward, "provoke" the opposition, find the all-important first "vertical pass" – something that Deschamps values a lot) but his fitness and capacity to play several games in a row has been a problem over the years. Sissoko could really bring something. He’s such an impact player and he’s also a decent finisher.

PL.com: How is he adapting to life in the Barclays Premier League?
PA:
I spoke to him after the game at Tottenham Hotspur and he’s loving it – he is absolutely loving it. When you play at Toulouse there’s not a very big crowd and it’s very quiet. Suddenly he’s at St James’ Park and it’s full with 50,000 and he absolutely thrives on that. He loves the big stage, he loves the fact that people have sung his song so quickly. When we talked to him about it he had this big smile across his face.

"He’s such an impact player and he’s also a decent finisher"
Philippe Auclair

PL.com: What is he like off the pitch?
PA:
He’s a guy who is very approachable; he’s a really good guy. If you talk to any of the French journalists that followed him at Toulouse or with the national team, (he’s got seven caps now), they will all tell you that he is a guy you can rely on. He is solid, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, he talks very intelligently about football. He’s a real catch for Newcastle. Of all the guys who’ve arrived in England recently, in my opinion, he’s the top.

Pl.com: Are you surprised there wasn’t stiffer competition for his signature?
PA:
Well, there was some competition for his signature. In France there were a lot of people who would have loved to take him. I’m a little surprised at how much Newcastle paid for him. He’s worth far, far more. Perhaps because people were thinking of him in his Toulouse guise, as a defensive midfielder, which he’s never been. Whereas suddenly you’re seeing him where he can shine and you’re thinking, "Heavens above, this guy’s got such an engine on him."

Coming soon:  Auclair’s views on Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran and Yacouba Scylla.

Philippe Auclair is a leading French journalist who writes for France Football. He has also penned two well-received biographies: ‘Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King’ and more recently, ‘Thierry Henry: Lonely At The Top’ which was released on general sale in December.

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Key Points

  • Moussa Sissoko is the best of the January signings, according to Philippe Auclair
  • France Football writer says Sissoko is loving life on Tyneside
  • Auclair expects Sissoko to make a huge impact in Barclays Premier League and in French national team