Despite France enjoying more success on the international stage than England, Ligue 1 has long served as the subservient league to the Premier League, with plenty of France’s most gifted players deciding to cross the channel and ply their trade in England rather than stay in their homeland. With the meteoritic rise of the Premier Leauge as the most watched league across the world, this trend has only intensified over the past decade as the English clubs have, in most cases, become far wealthier than their French counterparts. Newcastle United have exploited this as well as anyone, and one of the most dragged out transfer sagas of the summer was their pursuit of Lille's Mathieu Debuchy.
The French right-back impressed for Les Bleus in the Euros, and looked set to move to Tyneside after the tournament finished, but the two clubs could not agree a fee and the move eventually collapsed. According to reports in both England and France, however, an agreement has now been reached and Debuchy will join in January for around £5m. If this is true, this will be the second time in eighteen months that Newcastle United have poached one of Lille's players for a ridiculous price, as they paid a similar fee to sign Yohan Cabaye - Debuchy was best man at Cabaye's wedding - in the summer of 2011, who proved to be arguably the signing of the season.
£5m for Debuchy represents a real bargain when you consider the market rate for attacking full-backs, particularly given the fees that Premier League clubs have paid in recent years for the likes of Glen Johnson, Jose Bosingwa and Aleksandar Kolarov (all of whom cost roughly £16m each). They were all a few years younger than Debuchy, who is 27 but it can be argued that he's in his prime as a defender. He is a regular for the French national team, too, and has a fair bit of Champions League experience.
Debuchy was born in Lille and joined the club at an early age, rising through the ranks before making his first team debut in 2004, but he actually started his career playing in midfield, and it wasn’t until his early twenties that he ended up switching to full back. He was always a reliable member of the Lille squad; however, it was really when Rudi Garcia succeeded Claude Puel as head coach in 2008 that Debuchy came in to his own and developed in to the dynamic, marauding right-back that he is today.
Despite losing several key players, such as Michel Bastos and Jean II Makoun to league rivals Lyon, Garcia encouraged more ambitious, progressive football whilst giving the younger players opportunities to impress, and it was under him that Debuchy flourished, embracing the more attack-minded duties of the modern full back. He fast became a vital member of the Lille side, and played a key role as they went on to complete an impressive league and cup double in the 2010/11 season.
In a world where many full backs are either solid defensively or effective going forward, players such as Debuchy who can do both are somewhat of a rarity, and it is easy to see why he is constantly linked with a host of Europe’s top clubs. His dynamism and supreme physical ability allow him to constantly bomb down the right flank and provide width - particularly valuable when the likes of Eden Hazard like to roam more centrally – and his consistent crossing means he is often a provider of goals, as well as getting on the scoresheet himself on occasion.
This, in many respects, is a typical Newcastle United signing. Whilst they should be commended for their prudent transfer business, it is baffling that other clubs have not cottoned on to what they're doing: signing players who impressed in other leagues for reasonable prices. It seems bizarre that such a simple transfer system continues to pay such fruitful dividends, yet some clubs still choose to ignore the continental market and carry on overpaying for homegrown players
With Lille moving to their new state-of-the-art 50,000 stadium this coming season and offering Champions League football, Debuchy was in no rush to leave, but his heart was set on a move to England and this season has failed to reach the level of consistency he reached in recent years - although, to be fair, Lille have struggled to maintain their top three status, too. They decided it wasn't worth keeping an unhappy player at the club and allowed him to get his move, and Newcastle to get yet another bargain from the continent.