Yohan Cabaye signing for Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace is like dropping your wedding ring into a bin filled with smashed meat. It’s like making George Clooney wear a suit made from Dane Bowers’ warm sick. It’s like (bear with me) giving Michael Jackson’s sparkly glove to a zoo monkey that won’t stop wanking. (Actually, that one may have happened.)
And if you listened closely to the froth and fury of television football pundits this summer you may well think one of the above statements is actually true. This is, after all, Yohan Cabaye – a man who can stroke a ball so delicately you can only look directly at him if you’ve strategically stuffed your pants with choc-ices.
This was the bright, classy midfielder who, on arriving in the Premier League, helped Newcastle United finish 5th – something that now seems less likely than Mike Ashley firing lasers into the Angel of the North from a Death Star shaped like a massive Sports Direct mug.
Even as Newcastle descended into a cycle of streakiness, discontent and mid-table apathy, Cabaye shone with enough lustre for shiny-object collectors PSG to scoop him up. £19 million landed in Mike Ashley’s Hi-Tec bum-bag and Cabaye landed in the Champions League.
Except, for a litany of reasons, ‘Brilliant Cabaye’ morphed upsettingly into ‘Bench Cabaye’ – shuffling meekly after a midfield trio that often appeared flawless. Marco Verratti could conjure, Blaise Matuidi could dominate and Thigao Motta could prise your face off with a hot spanner – what could Cabaye add to that?
Injuries played their part too, as did a few unkind words from PSG’s kingmakers Thiago Silva and the increasingly buffoonish Zlatan Ibrahimović. For all these reasons, Cabaye made just 13 starts for PSG last season. He completed 90 minutes just once.
His escape from Paris – and from Zlatan jabbing a tiny Ikea pencil into his self-esteem – was inevitable. His destination seemed a bit more complex.
Back in 2013 Arsene Wenger had tried to lure Cabaye away from Newcastle. And by lure, I mean he offered a bag of mints and a go on his bike. Newcastle blocked the move, sending Cabaye into a micro-huff. But, for whatever reason, Wenger never went back in for a player he clearly admired – at a price far less likely to make his nipples invert.
Even with Arsenal out of the picture, Cabaye seemed tailor-made for a Champions League push – twanging the ball into the path of Harry Kane or plucking out passes from the dent in the pitch where Steven Gerrard used to live.
And then something odd happened. Alan Pardew, a man who smells of tingly mint shower gel and tremendous self-regard, persuaded Cabaye to join him at a Crystal Palace side who had just received universal praise for finishing 10th.
And it was around about this point that football punditry began to fizz like Pardew’s minty ball bag. Cabaye at Palace became code for the wicked, unstoppable opulence of the Premier League. Peculiar comparisons were made between Palace’s spending capacity and clubs like AC Milan, as if mid-table Premier League sides were obliged to have a meat raffle in aid of European football’s stumbling giants.
What people seemed to notice less was that Palace were a side brimming with attacking intent. No one seemed to consider that, for a midfield general like Cabaye, the prospect of pinging a pass into the path of blurry-legged whipsters like Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako must seem as tempting as chalking a cock and balls onto Zlatan’s blazer.
With one eye on a home European Championship next summer Cabaye needed to push himself ahead in a fiercely competitive pool of French midfielders. At Palace he’ll not only play a lot, but he’ll play as the heartbeat of an exciting and eye-catching team.
It’s been a yo-yo few years for Cabaye. From a Newcastle team with all the ambition of a hazelnut yoghurt to the fringes of an emerging European superpower, Cabaye finds himself in a fascinating new middle ground.
Palace are a team with a very clear sense of who they are and the troubles they’ve escaped. And yet, perhaps more than other mid-table Premier League sides, they seem to have sniffed out a new fragility and anxiety amongst the bigger teams in the league.
So perhaps the Cabaye transfer isn’t the bubbling moral panic it was made out to be. Maybe there’s no need to drill holes in your Sky box or lock your family in a bunker or set fire to your half-and-half scarf (actually, you should do that).
In the last few years Cabaye has been the sparkly glove and he’s been the wanking monkey. And if there’s a man who knows his way around both, it’s Alan.
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