There are myriad reasons why Newcastle United paid French club Nice just £16million for Allan Saint-Maximin last summer.
Here was an enfant terrible, a talented maverick who was expelled from the illustrious Clairefontaine academy aged 12 and whose social-media posts included drinking in a nightclub after his team had lost, as well as ill-advised pictures of his bank account.
There were accusations of feigning illness to miss a game, a car crash involving a tram – after which it was reported he produced a fake driving license – and questions over his attitude.
There are a myriad of reasons that Newcastle United paid just £16m for Allan Saint-Maximin
The winger made some ill-advised moves whilst playing for French side Nice before moving
Nice boss Patrick Vieira said of him: ‘Allan’s problem is that sadly he thinks that talent is enough to go to the highest level.
‘And he needs to understand that he needs to work, to make sacrifices. He needs to suffer. And sadly, he has not yet understood that.’
When Steve Bruce chatted with reporters in the days before Saint-Maximin’s arrival, we spoke more about those off-the-field antics than anything he had achieved on it, but the new head coach was willing to take a chance, unlike former boss Rafa Benitez.
Eleven months on, Saint-Maximin is arguably the best player in the Premier League on current form, evidenced by his devastating dribbles and three assists during Wednesday’s 4-1 win at Bournemouth.
As for the above misdemeanours, you would assume that rap sheet belonged to someone else in light on his conduct on Tyneside, where he is just about the most popular man in the city, and has been since hilariously saying ‘I don’t give a f***’ during a live radio interview last year.
Eleven months after joining Newcastle, Saint-Maximin has become the club’s best player
The winger claimed three assists and had some devastating dribbles in 4-1 Bournemouth win
Perhaps he needed to leave France, or maybe his three children under five have curtailed those wayward inclinations and brought focus and responsibility. He certainly speaks with a maturity way beyond his 23 years.
This is intended as a compliment – but Saint-Maximin is neither the player nor person we expected.
Yes, the Gucci headband and the bling have seen him fined by Bruce on a couple of occasions, but you can live with that when he shining on the pitch. They said in France that he was a rough diamond and his end product was repeatedly questioned. He is, however, looking like a pure cut right now.
Consider this: Newcastle have won once from 14 matches without him in the starting XI this season but, when he plays, it is 10 wins from 18.
He has returned from lockdown as good as unplayable; two yards quicker, 10 pounds stronger and infinitely more skilful than any other player on the park.
Newcastle have won 10 of the 18 matches that Saint-Maximin has played in for the Toon
Saint-Maximin is a street footballer who gets you out of your seat and keeps you on your feet. It is no surprise his flamboyance has provided such colour amid the otherwise drab surrounds of Project Restart.
He was born just outside of Paris in Chatenay-Malabry to Haitian parents. He attributes his dribbling wits to playing against older boys, including his brother, on the concrete courts of their suburb.
But his was not a deprived childhood and he would accompany his mother, a teacher, on school trips to London, all the while encouraged to practise what is his excellent English.
Allied to that is an IQ of 145 and a social awareness that saw him visit Newcastle’s largest foodbank within weeks of signing. There have also been impromptu donations to the city’s homeless.
Saint-Maximin, it would appear, has used that intelligence to accelerate his development this season. During lockdown he improvised and deployed his dog as an opponent in his back garden. To be fair to the pooch, he got closer than most defenders have.
During lockdown, the Frenchman deployed his dog as an opponent in the back garden
Saint-Maximin says that, one-on-one, he will ‘kill’ any opponent. His team-mates will vouch for that, at least evidenced by one training-ground goal that saw him beat five of them before finishing. A voice off camera on that clip can simply be heard saying, ‘wow’.
But, and there is a but, here is Newcastle’s problem – Saint-Maximin is looking like a player deserving of the biggest stage.
We can reveal that the six-year deal he signed last August was on wages of around £36,000-a-week plus bonuses, and there is growing frustration that he earns less than some team-mates who rarely play.
It was hoped that a new contract in recognition of his worth would be on the table by now but the club remains in a state of paralysis amid the proposed takeover.
Sources say that interest from elsewhere is plentiful, but an exciting new era could be about to begin at St James’, and new owners would make keeping the winger a priority.
It would certainly cost a lot more than £16m to replace him. Indeed, if Newcastle United want to challenge at the top end of the Premier League, Allan Saint-Maximin should be priceless.