In our new edition of ‘Where are they now?’ we take a look back at our former French midfield maestro, Yohan Cabaye.
Signing for Newcastle United
Cabaye began his footballing career in his hometown, playing for Tourcoing. He initially did not meet the age criteria to play for the club, but due to his father working within the setup of the local team, he was awarded a place in the youth team.
From the age of 6 to 13, Cabaye developed immensely, adding different dimensions to his game to make him a dependable all round midfielder.
In 1998, the Frenchman made the move to Lille, who had a youth system that was highly regarded throughout France. After a successful 6 year spell in the youth system, Cabaye signed his first professional contract with the club, finding himself on the fringes of the first team during his first senior season.
The breakthrough season for the midfielder came in the following season, as Claude Puel utilised the Frenchman in 27 league matches throughout the 2005/2006 campaign.
The Frenchman established his role in the heart of midfield, earning the reputation of a very calm, yet heavily creative player. He was often used further forward in the midfield which allowed him to utilise his impressive passing abilities, to unlock defences and create opportunities for his teammates.
In total Cabaye made 191 appearances for the club based in the North of France, scoring a total of 31 goals.
Arguably the best season for Cabaye, was his final season at the club. Under new management, with Rudi Garcia at the helm, the Frenchman’s role in the team was slightly adjusted. He played further back, as a deep lying playmaker, which allowed wingers Hazard, and Gervinho to shoulder the creativity at the top end of the pitch.
This style suited Cabaye, with the pacey wingers being able to benefit from his long range passing, adding another dimension to the team and pushing them to their best ever season. The club won the double in 2010/11, winning the Ligue 1 title with 76 points, while beating PSG 1-0 in the Coupe de France final, to lift the trophy.
Just before the final match of their double-winning campaign Yohan Cabaye informed, first the manager, and then the rest of the squad that he would be departing for Newcastle at the end of the season.
It was a move that although allowed Cabaye to fulfil his dream by moving the Premier League, left Lille feeling disappointed. The manager stated that he respected Cabaye’s decision but wish he could have stayed with them on their adventure.
When joining Newcastle United in June 2011, Cabaye was handed the number 4 shirt which had become vacant following the departure of club captain Kevin Nolan. He stayed in the North East for just 3 years, but provided us with some great performances, and lasting memories.
The partnership he formed with the late Cheick Tiote was arguably the best midfield duo we have seen at St James Park in recent years. There was a perfect balance of grit, solidarity and creativity between the pair. The Ivorian acted as an anchor of the midfield, never shying away from challenges and often dominating the midfield with his warrior-like style. Cabaye on the other hand, although did not often shy away from tackles used the ball to create numerous opportunities for our frontline.
Yohan was instrumental in our 5th placed finish, supplying the deadly attackers of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, and Hatem Ben Arfa. He kept things simple in possession when need, with short passes to retain the ball, or had the ability to unlock the opposition defence in the blink of an eye with a long threaded ball through the heart of a backline, which often was converted by one of our Senegalese strikers.
Cabaye wasn’t one to shy away from taking a shot either, with long range goals against both Merseyside clubs. Then there were the set pieces. Who can forget the Frenchman’s 30 yard free kick against Manchester United in our 3-0 win, that cracked in off the crossbar!
It was fitting that the Frenchman’s last kick of the ball for Newcastle United was an exquisitely converted free kick against West Ham that nestled perfectly into the top corner.
The most disappointing factor of the Frenchman’s time in the North East was not just his departure, but the toxic air that surrounded his move. At the beginning of the 2013/14 season Arsenal placed a £10 million bid for the Frenchman. This offer was of course declined by the club, due to the significant value the midfielder added to the team, however the Frenchman’s head was turned.
He refused to particulate in games against both Manchester City and West Ham, as manager Alan Pardew publicly stated his head had been turned, viewing this as disrespectful in terms of both value and timing.
Although Cabaye remained in Tyneside until the winter transfer window of the 2013/14 season, and continued his impressive performances, including netting the deciding goal in our 1-0 win away to Manchester United, the inevitability and nature of his departure caused fans to view him in a negative light.
Where have they been?
Although it was Arsenal’s initial interest that dislodged Cabaye’s long term future from St James Park, his move away caused him to depart the Premier League and head to Ligue 1 champions PSG.
In a star-studded squad that included the likes of Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edison Cavani, Cabaye could not influence the games to anywhere near the level of which he could at Newcastle.
Admittedly during his return to France, the midfielder picked up silverware in the shape of Ligue 1 and Coupe de France trophies, but his personal contribution to the team declined hugely. He appeared 39 times for the French champions, often from the bench, and scored just a solo goal.
Perhaps searching for a more meaningful role, Yohan Cabaye made the return to the Premier League, with former Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew. Signing in a club record fee for Crystal Palace.
He could not replicate his previous Premier League form for the Eagles, relying on penalties to get himself on the score sheet, while the teams performances and results suffered. The team were not performing well under Pardew, and Cabaye could not help, overlooking his own decline in standard of performances.
Back in the Premier League, Cabaye therefore travelled to St James Park, a stadium in which he was previously admired, and delivered so many brilliant performances at. Being the designated penalty taker for the London based club, he stepped up to take a strike from the spot following a foul in the box.
Perhaps symbolic of his career since departing the team in black and white, his penalty was saved by Karl Darlow. To the pure jubilation of St James Park, his dejected figure was not shown any sympathy by club captain Jamaal Lascelles, as we went on to win the game 1-0 due to an Andros Townsend free kick.
Following the midfielders flat 3 year spell at Crystal Palace, he made the move to Dubai with Al Nasr, making the move on a free transfer due to the expiration of his contract.
Repeating history, this move did not unravel as planned for Cabaye. He represented the club for just six months, in which he scored 2 goals, however left the club in January 2019.
The news that Cabaye would depart after such a short spell, came after the appointment of new manager, Benat San Jose. The club were not in a comfortable league position, and it can be assumed that the Spanish manager did not perceive Cabaye as a player that could add value to his team.
The Frenchman was therefore free to look for a club, when Saint Etienne came in with an offer to allow the midfielder to return home to France.
He penned a 1 year deal with the club in August 2019, and has since appeared just twice for the French outfit. With the current pandemic ongoing, the circumstances surrounding players soon to be out of contract are still relatively unknown.
At 34 years of age, I doubt there would be many top clubs interested in the Frenchman once football resumes, so we could see him extend his stay at Saint Etienne.
Was the grass greener?
No – I think Yohan Cabaye’s departure from Newcastle United was one of the worst choices, in terms of the players and the clubs decision. I understand that once his head was turned, a departure was inevitable, however if this move was never anticipated originally, Cabaye could have continued his amazing spell at our club.
He has failed to fully integrate into any of the teams he has since joined, while we have failed to replace his presence in the heart of midfield.
It truly is a shame that Cabaye left when he did, but this was perhaps due to the lack of ambition shown at the club. You cannot argue with players having ambitions to win silverware in their careers, but in situations like that of Cabaye’s, sometimes the sense of belonging should not be overlooked.