Massadio Haïdara 20 Defender Newcastle United France
2013 has been....
Awful. It doesn't matter what we say or how we dress this up, there's really only one point of reference for Massadio Haïdara in 2013 and it's THAT tackle.
March 17th was the date and most observers of English football will still wince picturing a truly dreadful studs up lunge from Wigan Athletic's Callum McManaman in the Latics 2-1 victory over Newcastle. Cue the inevitable tirade of 'he's not that type of player' in defence of McManaman spewing forth (most vigorously from Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, rarely averse to the sound of his own voice), when clearly the young England winger had proved he was just that. Scant consolation as Haïdara lay slain.
The game was pivotal for both Newcastle and Haïdara. Having performed impressively for Nancy in Ligue 1 for much of the season, he was recruited by the Magpies in January; one of five French players snapped up by the club during the Winter Transfer Window. Signed as back up for Davide Santon, another player on this list, the French under 21 international cost around €2m; a very reasonable outlay for a player that was attracting considerable interest.
The assault on Haïdara looked every inch a career threatener and the sight of the defender splayed across the touch line in great distress seemed to drain his colleagues rather than galvanize. Despite finishing fifth the previous year, and making excellent progress in the Europa League, Newcastle had skirted around the lower reaches of the Premier League for much of the season. With considered opinion suggesting a relegation battle would be something they would eventually switch on to and avoid, Wigan's late winner breathed life into the Lancashire club and pitched Newcastle a little closer to the mire.
Expecting the worst, news that Haïdara's injury was not only not quite as serious as had been thought, but possibly repairable within weeks, was greeted with a collective sigh of relief across Tyneside. He returned to the team as a European starter in April and played particularly well as Newcastle fought in vain to overcome a first leg Europa League deficit against Benfica. Back on bench duty days later for the Tyne Wear derby, Haïdara was an unused sub as Paolo Di Canio's Sunderland humiliated their rivals on home turf, pushing Alan Pardew's team ever closer to the relegation zone.
A battling defensive performance at West Brom a week later helped the cause with Haïdara playing the full ninety, but the next game saw an exhausted Newcastle destroyed 6-0 at St James' Park by a Coutinho inspired Liverpool. That particular performance, Newcastle's worst of the season, if not the most meek in the club's history, hit hard and indicated that a team that had done well the previous season were now odds on for the drop.
Haïdara wasn't alone in looking lost against The Reds, but his performance emphasised the risk of throwing a young player into a tough battle prematurely, especially one that may have been mentally and emotionally drained by recent on field events. A series of hamstring and ankle injuries have since followed and only a 45 minute run out against Manchester City in the League Cup have been forthcoming. Currently injured again, Haïdara is unlikely to see much more action this calendar year.
This is where things start to get complicated. At present, Davide Santon remains Newcastle's left back, and a very good one at that. Haïdara was clearly purchased as back up with a view to eventually replacing Santon should he move on or populate the right back berth that many in Italy feel he should be frequenting. The problem here is that Newcastle also purchased Mathieu Debuchy in January - the current French international right back - so any plans to switch Santon across the pitch are unlikely to crystallize.
With his path into the first team blocked, Haïdara's situation has been further complicated by the emergence of young Welsh international Paul Dummett, who has progressed from the Magpies academy into the first team squad via a particularly fruitful loan spell at St Mirren. This additional hurdle doesn't factor in the wretched time Haïdara has endured with injury over the last seven months. Despite gaining a reasonably big move in January, things probably could not have been worse in 2013.
The odds are currently well stacked against Massadio Haïdara but we think there's a much better player here than one we can just write off. The forceful and rapid surges down the left wing and some extremely robust performances at Nancy belie a very able, if very raw, performer. Whilst Dummett represents a personal challenge right now, we consider Haïdara the far better player and if injuries can be addressed it will be him knocking on the first team door again very soon.
Perhaps most telling in the current situation is Haïdara's consistently upbeat refrain. Despite suffering an annus horribilus he remains hugely popular with teammates and fans, regularly makes positive noises in the local press (apologies; 'made', past tense due to a local media embargo adopted by the club) and is rarely photographed looking anything other than truly glad to be here.
Considering that his predecessors at Newcastle include French lefties Didier Domi and Charles N'Zogbia, no one would be surprised if Haïdara skulked off defeated after enduring the year he has. In terms of character building, 2013 will serve the under-21 international well in future.
An ideal situation would have seen Newcastle complete their purchase in January and allow their new man to remain at Nancy, but such was their need for additional bodies that was not an option. As 2013 draws to a close that situation can now be reviewed and the prospect of seeing Haïdara sprinting up and down the left flank rediscovering his stunted mojo whilst on loan somewhere would be good for player and parent club.
"I think the Newcastle fans recognise that they have a player here, he just needs to get a run of games." - Jeff Livingstone, IBWM
"100% of the tackles made by Massadio Haïdara in the Premier League have won possession for Newcastle United." - Opta
D This could easily have been an E, but there is a player in there and with better luck 2014 could be very different