How Newcastle United never found a replacement for Yohan Cabaye
Photo credit:(Getty Images/Mike Hewitt)

It can not be underestimated just how important a player Yohan Cabaye was to Newcastle United between 2011 and 2014.

The French midfielder scored 17 goals in 79 appearances for the Magpies and was part of a team who stunned the Premier League in the 2011/12 campaign as they qualified for the Europa League having finished fifth in just their second season back in the top flight.

He was a dead-ball specialist and he certainly had an eye for the spectacular, skills which caught the eye of Paris Saint-Germain and also got him into the French national side.

Unfortunately for him, his move back to his native France didn't quite work out and he was soon back in England to be reunited with former Newcastle boss Alan Pardew who had chosen to leave St James' Park for Crystal Palace at the end of 2014.

The duo would then give the Magpies a real hammering in their relegation season of 2015/16 as the ran out 5-1 winners at Selhurst Park, but in fairness that was a completely dismal campaign for the Magpies.

Cabaye's visits back to St James' Park haven't been too memorable for him personally since his departure however as he had a penalty saved by Karl Darlow as Rafa Benitez tried with all his might to keep the club up, and on his next visit after Newcastle's promotion, he arguably should have been sent off for a late challenge on DeAndre Yedlin.

After leaving Palace in 2018, he spent a short amount of time in Dubai with Al-Nasr before returning to France to play for Saint-Etienne where he remains today.

What's happened since doesn't undermine the importance of Cabaye. Just how key was he to Newcastle United? 

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What did Cabaye bring to the team?

Cabaye was instrumental for Newcastle United during his time at the club and he really ran the show in midfield, particularly during the highly successful 2011/21 campaign. He was probably unlucky not to have made it into the PFA Team of the Year that season.

St James' Park crowds would suddenly feel excited whenever the Magpies had a free-kick in a dangerous area given Cabaye's precision and expertise over the dead ball.

Manchester United, Stoke City and West Ham United were just three culprits of Cabaye's excellent free-kick strikes. There was simply nothing that could be done to keep the ball out of the back of the net. Sadly for Cabaye, his Stoke goal is undermined by the comical Steven Taylor who successfully distracted goalkeeper Asmir Begovic much to the amusement of the Gallowgate End.

It wasn't just set-pieces that made Cabaye such a key player to Alan Pardew, it was also his calmness and composure in the middle of the park that made him such an integral part of the team. 

He dictated the tempo of games no matter the opposition which is something alien to Newcastle since he departed. The Magpies surrender possession far too easily with long balls and nobody willing to be held accountable for grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. 

Cabaye was a once in a lifetime kind of player when you take into account his transfer from Lille was so minuscule and his impact is still felt to this day. 

When he left no Newcastle fan would've imagined they would be looking for a replacement in 2021. However, here they are struggling to dominate games and looking for that perfect midfielder to take them back to the top half of the league.

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Cabaye's best moments

There are many moments where Cabaye simply lit up St James' Park with moments of magic.

The previously mentioned free-kick against Manchester United has to be up there, as well as another time when he haunted the Red Devils by scoring the winner for Newcastle at Old Trafford in December 2013 with a precise strike from the edge of the area which deceived David De Gea.

It is hard to pick out THE greatest Newcastle United moment for Yohan Cabaye in a black and white shirt, simply because he was that good and had plenty of special moments for the fans to enjoy. 

What Toon fans would give for someone like him now! 

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How have Newcastle tried to replace him?

A number of central midfielders have come through the door at St James' Park since Cabaye's departure but, in truth, none of them have come close to reaching the levels that Cabaye did.

Today Jonjo Shelvey is supposed to be that man, but his hit and miss form is hardly inspiring. In the Magpies' Championship season of 2016/17, he did score the one free-kick in a win over fellow promoted side Brighton & Hove Albion, with another standout moment in the 6-0 thrashing of Queens Park Rangers where he scored a screamer. 

Since the club's return to the Premier League, he has really struggled to reach the desired levels but he did probably have his best top-flight season with the club in the 2019/20 campaign where he turned out to be the joint top-scorer in the league that season, his best goal coming in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City at St James' Park.

Still on the books on Tyneside is Henri Saivet, a man who was supposed to be a creative midfielder when signed by Steve McLaren in 2016. Even though McLaren brought him into the club, Saivet's game time was few and far between and after his sacking just two months later he pretty much disappeared altogether.

Jump forward to December 2017 and Saivet returns from nowhere and produces a moment of magic that Cabaye himself would have been proud of as he stepped up to score a long-range free-kick in a pre-Christmas thriller at the London Stadium, as the Magpies claimed a much-needed victory over West Ham.

But that was it and he hasn't made a single Premier League first-team appearance since then and he now finds himself occasionally playing for under-23's when needed.

The emergence of the local Longstaff brothers, Sean and Matty has given Newcastle fans some hope of a creative midfield once again in the coming years however whether they will ever reach the levels of Cabaye remains to be seen.