It is only natural for the transfer rumour mill to grind into life following a major tournament, although as we have seen in the past signing a player who has done the business at a World Cup or a European Championship does not always guarantee success (cough El-Hadji Diouf cough).
But what about a bloke who has plenty of Premier League experience, and who burst back into prominence with a series of fine showings at Euro 2016? One such example would be Moussa Sissoko, who despite a season of mediocrity and disappointment at Newcastle United became a key figure in the France side that marched to the final; deposing none other than N’Golo Kante in the Les Bleus starting eleven along the way.
Naturally enough, Sissoko has since been linked with big money moves away from the relegated Magpies to any one of European football’s big names; one such club being Arsenal. But would the midfielder fit into Arsene Wenger’s plans and help boost Premier League title aspirations for the 2016/17 campaign?
A Question of Motivation
Analysing the 26-year-old’s performances is something of a thankless task given the huge disparity between his displays for club and country. Do we consider what the motivated and passionate Sissoko offers given his world-class showings in the latter stages of Euro 2016, or do we reflect upon the disinterested, under-performing Sissoko that played a part in Newcastle United’s demise in 2015/16?
One goal and eight assists for the Geordies last season in 37 appearances is hardly the stuff of legend, but as we dig a bit deeper we can find a few truffles in the dirt. Was Sissoko being played out of position for starters? He was favoured in a deep-lying central midfield role at St James’ Park, and yet for France he occupied the right flank and contributed a series of energetic displays that added value to Les Bleus both in attack and defence.
And while numerically there is little to speak of in terms of goals or assists at Euro 2016, it was Sissoko’s driving runs forward – and taking on players at pace – that no doubt caught the eye of Arsene Wenger and countless other coaches. It was reminiscent of the sort of rampaging excursions that the 26-year-old became known for when he first came to these shores.
The Numbers Game
With Wenger needing a powerful presence in midfield as the missing link between the creative stylings of Santi Cazorla, the metronomic Aaron Ramsey and the defence-minded Francis Coquelin, Sissoko could fit the bill. And the versatility to play as a winger – he completed more dribbles than he played key passes in 2015/16 – adds another intriguing string to his bow.
Perhaps playing in a possession-based side like Arsenal will be beneficial to Sissoko, too. Compare his stats for France – similar in style to the Gunners – at the Euros with those from the last campaign at Newcastle: for Deschamps’ side he played fewer passes on average per match than while on duty with the Geordies (26.5 compared to 37.5), but his pass success rate was much higher (up from 76% to 88.7%). He also averaged a shot at goal every 45 minutes for France, as opposed to just one every 84 minutes for the North East side. Even from a defensive perspective the Frenchman made a successful tackle every 36 minutes for his country; compared to one every 60 minutes at club level.
The conclusion we can draw from these figures is that Sissoko is more at home playing slow, progressive ‘keep ball’ football than he is the more ‘up and at ‘em’ stylings of a Newcastle United (pre Rafa Benitez, anyway). And clearly the motivation in playing for his country in his homeland was a big factor in his improved performances. So if he can be cajoled into trying equally as hard domestically, then you would expect him to flourish under Wenger’s tutelage.
Unsurprisingly, Sissoko’s market value has soared following his Euro heroics, and quotes as high as £35m are being purported. This is the inevitable side-effect of ‘big tournament syndrome’, where a player’s price tag expands beyond all sense and logic.
Plenty of clubs have fallen foul of this ‘law’, including Spurs on three separate occasions: Romanian duo Ilie Dumitrescu and Gheorghe Popescu, and Russian frontman Roman Pavlyuchenko were all post-tournament purchases, as were the likes of Karel Poborsky, Jordi Cruyff and Thomas Brolin elsewhere. The key difference is that Sissoko is a proven Premier League performer…..even if last season was one to forget.
But he is under contract until 2019 at Newcastle, and they will be in no rush to cash in on an asset whose value has increased exponentially in the last few weeks. It could take an offer in excess of £20m, realistically, to secure his signature.
And then just one question would remain: is a player who ranked as low as 80th in Squawka’s performance matrix of Premier League midfielders last season the guy that Arsenal need for a dual assault on the title race and the latter stages of the Champions League?