Shades of grey in black and white: Reflecting on Allan Saint-Maximin’s time at Newcastle United

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Assessing Allan Saint-Maximin’s impact at St. James’ Park is not a black and white argument.

For a club historically brandished in black and white, where flashes of silverware have been displayed in sepia-toned images, life had suddenly become grey.

Weighed down by a lack of ambition and investment, led by an owner and manager who valued frugality in the boardroom and restraint on the pitch ahead of forward-thinking and positivity, St. James’ Park had become devoid of colour. The dank crumbling masses of concrete were seeping with moisture as the heavens opened and almost 10,000 empty grey seats has been understandably neglected by supporters who craved the optimism and adventure that were once commonplace in vibrant times gone by.

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Where Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers arrived on the Premier League scene with effervescence and ebullience, and Sir Bobby Robson’s young Magpies simply oozed with vim and vigour to compete alongside the European elite, there was now monotony in monochrome. A lifeless Newcastle United were in desperate need of shock treatment. The arrival of Allan Saint-Maximin was met with intrigue rather than excitement as cautionary glances were made towards a career where an unquestionable talent had struggled to find somewhere he could receive reciprocated adoration.

Allan Saint-Maximin has scored five goals so far this season.Allan Saint-Maximin has scored five goals so far this season.
Allan Saint-Maximin has scored five goals so far this season.

An energetic cameo in an opening day defeat against Arsenal, where a lack of tactical direction and miscommunication were punished, showed this French winger could inject some energy into a fanbase drained of enthusiasm by the limitations imposed upon their beloved club. There was a crumb of hope, a pinch of daring, and a modicum of inspiration provided by a player that seemed at complete contrast to the tedium elsewhere in the club.

As his manager at the time spoke of front-foot football, the side he put out screamed of caution and a lack of enterprise. Yet Saint-Maximin seemed to take such an approach as a personal affront, trying the unconventional, feeding off the enthusiastic response of the St. James’ Park faithful.

For all of the mesmeric stepovers, dazzling turns, and surging runs, Saint-Maximin seemed chained by tactical mediocrity, only being able to shake of those shackles on the odd occasions as his side secured a lower mid-table finish that pleased the owner, yet left supporters craving more.

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There was, quite rightly, persistent talk of Saint-Maximin’s lack of consistency or end-product, with his first two seasons providing seven goals and 11 assists in 56 appearances in all competitions. Yet assessing the impact the winger made in those years goes beyond statistics as he offered a glimmer of hope in the manner Hatem Ben Arfa had done a decade earlier. Similarly to his predecessor, the talk of Saint-Maximin’s time on Tyneside will always be of what could have been, rather than what was achieved.

The departure of Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce should have heralded a bright new dawn for both club and player. Yet as it stands, only one of those parties appears to have thrived in the wake of the return of drive and ambition. Just four goals and seven assists in 56 appearances under Eddie Howe can be assessed in two ways; Saint-Maximin is no longer the near-talismanic figure he once was under Howe’s predecessor, and he is no longer viewed as the only source of inspiration in a Magpies side that has made rapid strides under the former Bournemouth manager.

A player capable of providing energy and enthusiasm in abundance should have been a perfect fit for Howe’s well-worn mantra of ‘intensity is our Identity’. Yet there has been a feeling the Frenchman cannot or will not fully thrust himself into the high-press, structured, forward-thinking style that has catapulted the Magpies from candidates for relegation into the Championship to mixing it with Europe’s greatest in the Champions League.

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As the final days of Saint-Maximin’s time at St James Park are played out, with a £35million move to Saudi Pro League club Al Ahli now imminent, there could well be an understandable feeling of a missed opportunity for the player. Clearly cherished by the majority of supporters, Saint-Maximin was supported with a ‘Wor Flags’ tribute as he struggled to find form last season. In return, there were moments of genius, none more so than a stunning late equaliser against Wolves and a dazzling display in a 3-3 draw against eventual treble winners Manchester City.

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But with Howe craving consistency and intensity from his players, Saint-Maximin felt increasingly dispensable and with Newcastle battling with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, a decent offer was always likely to be considered. Howe is not short of options to satisfy his needs on the left-hand side of attack, with the reinvigorated Anthony Gordon, the renaissance man Joelinton, and the newly-arrived Harvey Barnes all more than capable of ‘buying into’ the structure and style demanded by their manager.

Newcastle United new signing Harvey Barnes. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)Newcastle United new signing Harvey Barnes. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
Newcastle United new signing Harvey Barnes. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The new era at Newcastle should have provided the platform for Saint-Maximin to elevate his game to the esteem his unquestionable talent and ability deserved. With tricks and twists aplenty, the energy that surges around St. James’ Park on a matchday should have powered the winger to new heights, lifting him to the levels of the Premier League’s most inspirational figures on a more frequent basis.

The arrivals of the likes of Alexander Isak, Bruno Guimaraes, and Sandro Tonali could and should have given Saint-Maximin a boost, freed of the sole responsibility for inspiration and creativity. He was no longer viewed as ‘the one’, but potentially another cog in a purring machine.

Instead, he will head for pastures new with little to show other than the warm wishes of the supporters who took him to their heart. Questions will always remain over the impact he made during a four-year stint on Tyneside, answers will be difficult to find. The debate over Saint-Maximin’s time at St James Park is far from a black and white discussion.

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