Cheick Tioté

Newcastle XI for Sunday's 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Typically British, this scene depicts one of many Steve Harper punts upfield for Andy Carroll to flick on at Kevin Nolan or Wayne Routledge. Carroll won most of his duels with Kieran Clark, creating space for Nolan's - slow - bursts. However, Hughton's bizarre insistence on playing a ridiculously high-line allowed the likes of Stephen Warnock and Stylian Petrov to play quarterback-passes over to Ashley Young or Mark Albrighton. Tioté's athleticism may help United maintain this tactic, as less loose-balls in the midfield will land at the feet of the opposition, and even if they do, the Ivorian offers a better recovery option than the one provided by Alan Smith.

Unlike the majority of their Premier League counterparts, Newcastle United’s squad seems to askew cosmopolitanism. Buttressed by an English spine, you can almost taste its Carling-flavoured depth.

This isn’t to suggest Geordies are a xenophobic bunch – rather, it’s a reflection on a monotonous birthplace-list nestling in a league where Wigan Athletic don’t include a single Englishman in their first-team.

With the signing of Cheick Tioté all but complete, Chris Hughton’s squad is gaining the seemingly-mandatory globalisation-embracing feel the 20 items in Richard Scudamore’s Premier League basket encompass.

The Ivory Coast star will line-up alongside an Argentine midfielder – both of whom will then be in front of a defence boasting a floppy-mopped chap from Córdoba, and a speedy Spaniard.

Tioté joins Alan Smith as the only man on Tyneside to have played under two England managers – Steve McClaren (FC Twente), and Sven-Göran Eriksson (Ivory Coast).

Physically, the centre-midfielder will have no problem in adjusting to the frenetic pace of Premier League life: Tioté is strong, powerful, agile, quick and possesses great balance.

Standing at 1.80m, the Ivorian is not the tallest of players, but Hughton’s preferred 4-4-1-1 system contains a height-cleavage – two 1.93m centre-backs at one end of the pitch, plus a striker and flanker of a similar stature at the other.

Save for Jonás Gutiérrez (who plays on the left), Tioté is a giant among United’s stock of small central-midfielders, but his tenacity and ferociousness in the tackle matches that of Joey Barton and Alan Smith.

Generally, dangerous challenges result in [insert name here]’s cheerleaders uttering the supposedly-pardoning line, “he’s just not that kind of player”. For a recent example, see Joe Cole. A similar story applies to Mike Ashley’s £3.5m acquisition – the African may not have the mannerisms or sinister look of a thug, but too often he goes overboard on the relentless physicality with late tackles.

Twente drew 0-0 away at Roda recently. Tioté kept Roda's quarterback Willem Janssen under constant pressure, cutting the home side's creative pipeline. With Emir Bajrami rampant on the flank, and the defence dropping deep when balls were crossed into the box, Tioté showed on the edge for deceptive pull-backs.

Elano, for instance, won’t forget him in a hurry. That incident occured in South Africa over the summer, and the player has stoked controversy this season too; flailing an arm in the face of Mads Junker during Twente’s recent 0-0 draw at Roda JC.

Another weakness in Tioté’s game is his awful composure in front of goal. Occasionally ghosting onto the D for a pull-back, his right-footed finishes are generally scuffed, or the preceding shoulder-drop time-consuming.

His grace on the ball in deeper regions makes this inability to score seem paradoxical; the tactically versatile 24-year-old is actually quite adept at calmly feeding others, or acting as the playmaker himself.

Against AZ Alkmaar last season, and North Korea at the World Cup, Tioté played in the defence-screening role – making two-yard passes, marking the zones a trequartista might thrive in, and creating space for libero-runs from Twente’s Brazilian centre-back Douglas.

As Ivory Coast camped seven players in North Korea's half during their 3-0 Group G victory, Tioté insured his attack-minded colleagues with supreme and unselfish discipline. The centre-backs often had to cover channel-balls with the full-backs standing high and dry upfield, so it was left to Newcastle's newbie to patrol the area indicated by yellow-lines. This was where one of Korea's foremost two players sought to lay on the other. Against Brazil and Portugal, Tioté played where Romaric is on this diagram, although the entire midfield was compressingly flat - the curve beginning very deep, sandwiching Yaya Toure in the centre.

During the aforementioned match at Roda, new Twente coach Michel Preud’homme deployed him as bulldog in the triangular centre-midfield pioneered by his predecessor, Steve McClaren.

That system, which helped Twente win last season’s title, saw Newcastle’s latest purchase on the bench. Theo Janssen and Wout Brama acted as pivots behind ageing Danish playmaker, Kenneth Pérez.

Preud’homme shifted the angle of the triangle by 90°, thus positioning Tioté in an advanced area, and exploiting those all-round attributes – building, breaking, blocking, and biting.

On international duty, Eriksson stationed him in a packed-midfield versus Brazil and Portugal, but his duties were similar to those assigned by Twente’s new Belgian tactician.

McClaren also utilised Tioté’s creative capabilities at the point of his own triangle – calling upon the youngster to salvage something from a 3-0 loss to Ajax.

The boy from Yamoussoukro doesn’t offer pinpoint long-diagonals, but is sharp on give-&-go manoeuvres. Mostly he’s the one instigating these, utilising his acceleration and lengthy stride.

Away at FC Steaua in the 2009/10 Europa League.

Formerly of Anderlecht, his magnum-opus – in terms of the eight games I’ve seen him start – undoubtedly came against Steaua Bucureşti in the 2010/11 Europa League group-stage.

Facing a team with their exit assured prior to matchday six, Twente knew they only needed one point from the encounter in the Romanian capital to progress.

The Eastern European outfit, buoyed by the freedom a paucity of pressure so often provides, took the game to the visitors, and would likely have bettered the 1-1 result were it not for a certain midfielder.

Tioté oozed class and confidence as a driving-force in the 4-3-2-1. His frame proved impenetrable, he passed with haste and precision, and made clever space-generating runs.

Alas, the copybook did obtain one noteworthy blot; assuredness melting into cockiness during a mad moment where Bănel Nicoliţă mugged a prolonged linger before crossing to play his part in handing Steaua the lead.

As I hope this piece demonstrates, Newcastle United and supporters of the club are by no means getting the finished article. Nevertheless, I fully expect Tioté to eventually become a Premier League regular for years to come.


4 thoughts on “Cheick Tioté

  1. Pingback: Cheick Tioté « Scissors Kick

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