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N’Zogbia deserves a grander stage



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Somebody needs to give Charles N’Zogbia the platform he deserves, be that in the league, Champions League, or at this year’s World Cup. Roberto Martinez said recently he would not stand in the player’s way if a big club came in for him. It’s a wonder that no team has so far. It’s also a wonder that the French National side haven’t scooped him up, but guess what? They could miss out – N’Zogbia is eligible for English citizenship after a six year stay.

When he joined Newcastle as a 17 year old from Le Harve in 2004, Bobby Robson said of him:

“N’Zogbia could go to the very top with the right coaching and motivation, and I hope it is with Newcastle. I signed him as a teenager and he was one of the most naturally gifted players of that age I’d ever seen.”

Which is high praise indeed from a man who worked with Ronaldo and Romario at PSV, Paul Gascoigne for England, and was managing in Portugal when Luis Figo was rising to prominence.

N’Zogbia was a cult hit at Newcastle as he became a regular in the first team in just his second season. He scored some spectacular goals during what were difficult times on and off the pitch at the club, more so if you are a youngster learning your trade in a difficult league, before he was eventually the victim of poor management under Glenn Roeder.

He was unsettled, and lobbied for a move, only to be denied it repeatedly. Then Joe Kinnear made an appalling reference to him as Charles ‘Insomnia’ on Sky TV after a 2-1 loss to Man City. N’Zogbia made it clear he would never play for the club again, and who could blame him. In the January transfer window of 2009, Wigan Athletic signed him for a fee in the region of £6 million.

Let me put that figure in perspective: Martin O’Neill spent £12 million on Stewart Downing last summer, Rafa Benitez spent £24 million on Alberto Aquilani, Mark Hughes spent £20 million on Roque Santa Cruz, and Alex Ferguson spent £16 million on Antonio Valencia.

Now in the case of Antonia Valencia, you might argue that Manchester United got their money’s worth – he has been a key player for them this season and has layed on 8 league assists for his team mates and scored 1 goal. In terms of other wingers in the League, Nani has 8 assists and 0 goals, Florent Malouda has scored 11 goals and got 8 assists (surely the best winger this year?), and Charles N’Zogbia, in a team threatened with relegation all season, has scored 5 goals and made 6 assists.

What about his – potential – England rivals? Stewart Downing: 2 goals (in the same game) and no assists in the league. £12 million I hear you cry once more! Ashley Young, a player recently linked with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester City – and is valued at £20 million – has scored 5 goals and managed 6 assists.

Aaron Lennon has managed 8 assists and 3 goals (despite succumbing to injury for the last 2 months). Theo Walcott has scored 3 goals and 2 assists (Ok I know he was injured for a lot of the season); Shaun Wright Phillips has 7 assists and 3 goals, and Adam Johnson 4 assists and 1 goal.

All of which highlights just how laudable N’Zogbia’s efforts this year have been.

It’s notable also, that many of his contributions have been match winning performances – even without scoring or assisting – and some of his goals against top teams (read: Arsenal) have been sublime not only in manner but in timing too. He is extremely versatile as he can play either wing or off the front man, has excellent technique, two feet, good delivery off either foot, and a shooting capability that can mix brawn with finesse. He can also dribble and create space to the extent that teams have tried and failed to double up on him.

Had Martin O’Neill not been such a stubborn purchaser of English players and opted for N’Zogbia over Downing, or Rafa Benitez spent the money from Xabi Alonso’s sale more wisely, these two clubs could very well be sitting in a Champions League spot by now. Perhaps they should consider it for next year. Or N’Zogbia at Arsenal would be a great match. He’ll be fresh; as it’s sadly unlikely he’ll be selected for a national side this summer. The French won’t recognise his ability, and Capello doesn’t seem interested, which is a real shame, in the words of the N’Zogbia himself he’d be happy to:

“The dream of every player is to take part in the World Cup. So, if I’m given a chance to do so, I’ll take it.”

If only he was.

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