This summer has been dominated by high-profile departures from the Premier League to the Saudi Pro League. The latest of these has seen Allan Saint-Maximin head from Newcastle to Al Ahli for an undisclosed fee. The Frenchman completes an exciting all-former-Premier-League front three for Al Ahli with Roberto Firmino and Riyad Mahrez.
Whilst some of Saint-Maximin’s previous social media posts have left fans confused, he was much less cryptic than usual in bidding an emotional farewell to his old club complete with a video montage.
The French Connection
Allan Saint-Maximin’s departure makes sense right now for the Magpies. The transfer brings some much-needed revenue into the club to offset some of the spending since the club’s takeover halfway through the 2021/22 season.
Newcastle don’t seem short on options for the Frenchman’s place in the team. They’ve signed wingers Harvey Barnes and Anthony Gordon in the past year. They already have Miguel Almirón on the books. Jacob Murphy has taken big strides forward under Eddie Howe’s management as has the club’s youth product Elliot Anderson. If needed, Joelinton and Joe Willock are also capable of filling in on the wing. There’s also the option of playing Alexander Isak wide left and Callum Wilson through the middle.
Therefore it looks like the club has a plan to manage without Saint-Maximin’s eye-catching contributions. However, it does mean the end to their latest French winger’s time at the club. Saint-Maximin is in a good company and will likely be remembered fondly alongside the likes of David Ginola, Laurent Robert, and Hatem Ben Arfa. But how does he compare to those three predecessors?
In four years at Newcastle, Saint-Maximin played 124 games for the club in all competitions. In those games, he scored 13 goals and assisted a further 21. That’s 0.10 goals and 0.17 assists per game played.
Let’s see how that stacks up to his compatriots:
As can be seen, Saint-Maximin has been the least productive of these four players in terms of goal contributions. This perhaps isn’t too surprising, given that three of his four seasons at Newcastle were spent in a team in a relegation battle. In general he played in the worst Newcastle team compared to the other three.
Laurent Robert is the undisputed king of end product amongst Newcastle’s French wingers. Of course his assist production was considerably helped by playing alongside the likes of Alan Shearer. However, he was also a scorer of great goals from the left side of a 4-4-2, as the numbers confirm.
Of course, not everything in football is about raw numbers. The game is ultimately a form of entertainment. Saint-Maximin has become famous amongst neutral fans as an enjoyable spectacle – sometimes worth tuning into Match of the Day all on his own.
However, in this area I would argue ASM is still second to Hatem Ben Arfa. The Parisian is still a cult figure, with this retro clip a particularly famous example:
On this day, 11 years ago, Hatem Ben Arfa did this against Bolton. 🥵🥰
The ultimate ‘streets will never forget’ goal by the ultimate ‘streets will never forget’ player! 🔥
— EpicFootieBoots (@EpicFootieBoots) Apr 9, 2023
The streets have remembered slightly-less-well an even more brilliant goal that Ben Arfa scored the same season in an FA Cup match against Blackburn Rovers. There were fewer TV cameras at that game, so the highlight clip has fewer angles and it’s less-frequently-shared online as a result.
Allan Saint-Maximin is a fashionable and trend-setting footballer who has an eye-catching look and is just the latest player to sport headbands, following the likes of David Beckham in the past.
ASM has over 1 million Instagram followers, which whilst considerably less than the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah, is still a considerable audience. He’s very much a modern player in this respect and engages well with supporters as well as using that presence to advertise various products.
In this area however, Saint-Maximin is left trailing again – this time by David Ginola. The 90s Newcastle and Spurs star’s career happened before the rise of social media. However, I suspect he’d have had a serious audience there if Instagram was around in his heyday. Ginola was such an off-the-field star that he appeared in this famous L’Oreal commercial:
Ginola was ultimately right that he was a footballer, not a movie star – indeed the likes of Eric Cantona and Vinnie Jones have broken across and he hasn’t. However, David was the height of cool in the 1990s and is arguably the most culturally significant of Newcastle’s French wingers.
A Source of Hope
So Allan Saint-Maximin wasn’t the most stylish of Newcastle’s French wingers. He wasn’t the flashiest dribbler. He didn’t have the greatest goal and assist output. However, the Frenchman still offered something important.
Saint-Maximin joined Newcastle when they were struggling to remain in the Premier League under Steve Bruce. He was signed the same summer as Joelinton. Whilst the Brazilian has become a key player for the club, he didn’t hit the ground running. Instead it was ASM who captured the imagination and indeed was the heartbeat of Steve Bruce’s team.
Often playing uninspiring low-block football with little ambition to entertain, Bruce’s team relied on Saint-Maximin. He carried the ball from deep positions, helping the team progress up the field. We already mentioned that his raw numbers aren’t as good as those of Robert, Ben Arfa, and Ginola. However he also played in a more limited team and with less help from those around him.
Off the field, Saint-Maximin appeared to understand the situation. He engaged positively with fans and was a regular at charity and community events.
In many respects, Saint-Maximin came to signify all that remained good about Newcastle during a dark hour. He was the one positive in a horrible team to watch. In many ways, he was the one thing that kept fans coming back until the takeover and Eddie Howe renaissance finally delivered the club from what looked like an inevitable relegation in 2021/22.
There are clubs that have been through worse than Newcastle in the past 15 years, however the thing that was so terrible about Mike Ashley’s ownership was the complete death of any hope or excitement. For a while, Saint-Maximin was the only exception to that.
That’s why Allan Saint-Maximin is special and will be remembered fondly alongside the very best of the club’s French wing wizards. It’s why there’s disappointment among fans, a feeling that the transfer doesn’t sit right in the heart, even if it makes sense with the head.
Allan Saint-Maximin isn’t Newcastle’s best ever French winger, but he will most definitely be remembered.