Fringe Player Focus – Kevin Mbabu

Is the young Swiss destined for a career at the top?
Is the young Swiss destined for a career at the top?

Today the Fringe Focus series takes a look at Kevin Mbabu, the versatile Chêne-Bougeries born Swiss under 20’s International, who made his debut in a 2-2 draw versus reigning League Champions Chelsea 5-months-ago.

Kevin Mbabu joined Newcastle United in January 2013 following a successful trial having made his breakthrough with Servette, with whom he made his senior debut with in the Swiss Super League in September 2012. He has represented Switzerland at all youth levels up to the U-20’s, for whom he has 2 caps. He is 6 feet and half an inch tall, has a physical presence and does not get bullied off the ball. Kevin is in fact his middle name by the way. His first name is Melingo .

He was actually scouted by both Manchester United and Arsenal back in 2011, going as far as joining the Gunner’s youth side on trial for the Ferroli Cup in Italy. Needless to say that did not work out and thankfully so – because Arsenal’s loss in Newcastle’s gain. Mbabu actually started off as a defensive midfielder in his early teens with the ability to play in central defense – but is now mainly regarded as a right back, who is comfortable covering on the left or centrally if required. Due to the ongoing injury problems suffered by both Paul Dummett and Massaido Haidara, young Kevin (he is approaching 21-years-old this April) has been used pretty much exclusively as left back cover by the senior team this season.

Mbabu’s signing was part of an advertised wider effort by Newcastle United to bring the development squad to new heights – a drive to recruit some of the brightest up and coming talent from cross Europe. Around the time that this lad joined the club, the Toon had just failed with a £3m bid to bring a certain Florian Thauvin in from Bastia – who at the time was regarded as one of the very best prospects around. Other junior signings to come in within this time frame were the likes of Gael Bigirimana, Romain Amalfitano, Curtis Good, Mehdi Abeid and Massaido Haidara. As you can see, that recruitment drive, much like the senior side over the years – bore little success.

Mbabu enjoyed a growing reputation within the reserve set up, helping Peter Beardsley’s under 21’s to the summit of their league for a time. At the beginning of 2015 he was deemed ready for his first loan move in order to aid his development. He was shipped off to Scottish Division 1’s Rangers alongside 4 other Toon youngsters.The move appeared to be more of a distraction technique employed by Mike Ashley to convince ‘Gers fans that his power grab at their team could bring mutual benefits to both his clubs. Whether it was designed to actually benefit the players themselves is questionable and newly appointed manager Stuart McCall was not impressed with being handed a handful of either long term injured or unfit players from our reserves set up when they were trying to gain automatic promotion back to the promised land of the SPL. In Mbabu’s case, he was described as being unfit despite featuring in two U-20 games and training with the senior side during his time there. Maybe he was unfit or maybe McCall did not fancy him. Either way he came back at the end of the season with zero senior side experience to his name.

At the beginning of this season, Mbabu was earmarked for a short term stint at Gateshead, but instead chose to stay and made his debut in the League Cup loss to Sheffield Wednesday’s second string having replaced Daryl Janmaat at half time. A defensive crisis then struck prior to the Chelsea game a few days later and Kevin found himself playing left back for the full 90 minutes. Not only did he apply himself well, but he excelled. Mbabu successfully made 8 tackles that day, a figure not beaten by anybody in the league – even matching experienced midfield battler Lucas Leiva of Liverpool. He went on to feature for 53 minutes during the 6-1 stuffing received by Manchester City before going off injured. Unfortunately injuries have been a common feature in his time with us and if he is going to kick on and develop into the player that his potential indicates he can be – he will need to overcome these repeated niggles.

Either side of these niggles, Mbabu put in a decent shift against a very determined Bournemouth and then turned out against Watford in the Magpies’ recent FA Cup loss. If it were not for his injuries since his impressive league debut against Chelsea, I am certain the lad would have featured more often in the first team – perhaps relieving Rolando Aarons of the Mission Impossible he has faced recently – with the attack minded winger being deployed in an unfamiliar role at full back.

Mbabu’s contract runs down this summer and manager for now Steve McClaren has this to say to the Chronicle when asked if he’d like the young Swiss to stay;

“Yes, I like him. He has a good attitude, he’s a good athlete and he’s strong. He’s willing and wants to do the job. He is wholehearted and you can see he just wants to get up the field with the ball. It’s a shame (he picked up injury) because he did well, it was his first game back at Watford in the FA Cup.”

Clearly McClaren and his staff rate the lad but it is unknown if a new deal has yet been put forward. Rolando Aarons is in the same boat, but it is understood the club has an option to automatically extend his contract – so there is no rush to tie him down. Whether such a clause exists with Kevin Mbabu is unknown..

It’s hard to know just how good this lad can be. Whilst he is a solid physical presence, he has only won 60% of his headers so far and has made only one successful tackle out of 9 in his league games since his impressive turn against Chelsea. He is not the quickest either and has only succeeded with 25% of his take-on’s, a figure he will need to improve if he is to be an effective full back. His repeated injuries also raise doubts as to his long term suitability at this level – but if he can get injury free and have a run of games together in his preferred position, he might just prove that his Chelsea performance was not a one off, but a sign of the things to come.

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About Shamrock

Like everyone here, support Newcastle United. Not the easiest side to feel good about at times, but it's our side!

114 thoughts on “Fringe Player Focus – Kevin Mbabu

  1. No I haven’t been sniffing glue, Troy. Things have changed though. Now Benitez, Rogers and Moyes are all out of work and it’s amazing how that focuses the mind and loosens the principles of people who want a job. Also we’re starting to spend money which will attract managers and finally maybe if McClaren fails and gets the sack Ashley will realise he needs the best available for the most important job at any club.

    Although, it is pretty much irrelevant as I am not convinced McClaren will even lose his job, even if we are about to go down.

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  2. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see us get beat today against Lillestrom. We’re just ****!

    As for Mbabu – Who knows, but it’s hard for any youngster to be a success here as we’re always in crisis and the circumstances for letting young players play is always very difficult.

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  3. The obvious answer is it is too early to judge. I am not even sure if we can say he hasn’t been tried because of lack of talent or age because he has been behind two players who have hardly been out injured, Janmaat and Debuchy. When he played he played on the other side.

    Now, he has been out since October 3 and is not in Spain. He must be out for at least another month (including getting fit again after 5 months). The real question is with him and Haidara out, who do we play? Anita is in Spain and Colback has played left back. Saivet is left footed and has been playing defensive mid. But Steve chose Aarons so we must bow to his greater experience and wisdom.

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  4. Of course I forgot Dummett 🙂 In my mind though I had Steve dropping Colo and playing Dummett as a centre back.

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  5. Stu, It’s a valid point about him spending money now. My only concern coming from that point of view is that potential managers like many fans will be wondering if it’s only been spent to assure safety. If and( it’s a big if) we do stay up, will the spending to strengthen the squad continue? It is rather worrying that we still don’t seem to be addressing our really weak areas, especially since those areas are the parts that most likely will decide our PL status. We now have what seems an unbalanced team to me, wonderfully creative MF players supplying forwards who fail to score enough of those chances and DFmids who more often than not fail to protect the back four.

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  6. I see John Gibson is having a go at everybody at NUFC today. Much of what he says has been said by various people on here but he is also talking about dropping Sissoko and Wijnaldum. Actually, Steve did half of this when he took off Wijnaldum at half time at Chelsea. Some would say it was a tactical switch but they were Steve’s tactics that weren’t working.

    It had crossed my mind to put Perez or Townsend in place of Sissoko, but Shamrock pointed out that Sissoko had created the most chances this season. Gini is our top scorer and biggest attacking threat. The real question should be how Steve cannot seem to get the best out of these obviously talented players. Remember, Sissoko starts most games for France in a very competitive team and Gini was Dutch player of the year.

    If we weren’t having to shore up the defense in every away game, maybe it would allow these players to thrive. Perhaps not picking Aarons as a full back would help and not having both Coloccini and Tiote in a team against fast and tricky players might also be an idea. I really think we have the players to survive, the question is do we have the manager?

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  7. Also, I remember The Troysta questioning the quality of the squad last year and for the first time in his life he was probably right. I think some NUFC fans did overestimate the quality of the squad. After spending 80 odd million I don’t think that is the case now, although we seriously needed another centre back, but that is only one position and a good manager could work around it.

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  8. McClaren needs to do something with the team away from home. We can’t keep picking attacking players and then sitting back. Either pick the attacking players and actually attack or select more defensive players and sit back to try and get a point at least or nick a win.

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  9. STUART@84. at last someone is talking bloody commen sense of all the fans talking this tactic or that tactics,play this player,drop that player and getting back to basics ect, this is the simple answer,now we just need a manager that can apply it,now that’s the part that worries me

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  10. Stu, Eric – I agree. Dropping Gini and Sissy is madness. They are our biggest attacking threats alongside Shelvey now with his laser guided passing. It’s McClaren’s job to set us up to win. At home it’s easy because they have the fans behind them but away from home his tactics are half committed and the players suffer as a result – not just Gini etc but the whle bloody team! Gibson etc need to think about why certain players do not perform away from home and ask what could be done to rectify it? Say we drop Sissy and Gini… Where does our cretivity come from?

    Gini has scored all bar one of his goals from inside the box. But when we play away from home we rarely get the ball into the box because we sit back with some weird confused attacking formation but defensive game plan. The result is half our attacking outlets are stranded out the game and we get battered time and again. He needs to commit to something and really go for it, not go about everything half baked.

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  11. McClaren talking about not letting the last result derail our season!!! Jesus, man, what planet is he on?! That would suggest that he thinks our season is on the rails and ok.

    Prick!

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  12. Just for the hell of it I looked back at our centre backs in the Bobby Robson era. He bought Bramble but he still managed to play in the Champions League. Here are the choices with games played in 2002:

    Andy O’Brien 26
    Woodgate 10
    Steven Caldwell 12
    Dabizas 13
    Bramble 13

    That was a train wreck waiting to happen and we still did OK. Would O’Brien get a game for us today? And Woodgate was a great player who never played. When did we ever have good central defenders – Keegan’s team?

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  13. I think the answer is that you play to your strengths and minimize your weakness. If you insist on playing Aarons as a full back you play him as an attacking fullback, or not at all. If you have Ben Arfa in your team you do not ask him to be a secondary right back.

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  14. It seems pretty obvious but how come our recent managers don’t see it. And Carver saying Colo is not a Captain. Then don’t have him as captain you moron, it was your job to win or lose and you are moaning after the fact.

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  15. It will be interesting to see how much money we do spend in the summer if we do stay up.
    I’m sure the recent splurge was the summers kitty. Of course we will have more cash from the TV deal but so will every other club and we’ve likely dipped into our pot already.
    The squad needs a big over haul but that means shipping players out first which is easier said than done.

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  16. Troysta: a lot of contracts expire anyway in the summer and some others that only have a year to run (Cisse, Tiote) can be sold to the Chinese. Now there’s a turn up for the books, the UK selling something to China.

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  17. If we go down, why would we keep a manager who failed to get Derby promoted. I can’t see the type of manager some on here are suggesting coming to a championship club. Moyes, Rodgers
    The only hope is, fan pressure forces Ashley to pull the trigger before its too late. IF we get beat at Stoke, surely Ashley will take the decision out of Charnleys hands.
    I still don’t see us appointing a manager who has the control of transfers therefore whoever comes in will be on another roller coaster ride with fans baying for blood within 12 -18 mths.
    Managers who want control, want players that are usually expensive. That always brings conflict with the chairman or owner. Ashley won’t go down that route and I’m surprised at Stuart even suggesting it.
    It looks like the Reality Train is starting on a new line. Please step off the train at the next platform Stuart. This train is for those that believe Ashley will not allow a manager control of transfers.

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  18. Troy: are you ghost writing for the 1974 hair styled, nicotine stained Gibbo now?

    http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/ex-newcastle-united-star-lee-10921225?

    It is quite funny that he says Clarks seemed destined for the big time but failed (at Huddersfield) and then it wasn’t really his fault that he ended up in **** situations at Brum and Blackpool. A real Troysta type effort. But Clark has hit the big time now at Kilmarnock 🙂 🙂 🙂 YCMIU

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  19. What a crap article about Pardew. Give the bloke a chance at Palace.
    It is like Martinez at Everton. One week he’s overrated and underachieving and the next he’s a great manager doing a great job.
    Palace are an average club and will achieve average results under Pardew. To ever expect them to stay near the top was naivety and it’s more a reflection of those criticising than Pardews ability to manage.

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  20. Psychs
    So Gibbo thinks Clark had impossible jobs at Brum & Blackpool. You wouldn’t listen.
    He didn’t succeed at Huddersfield and he did have a decent budget but he came very close setting many records still unbeaten. He just couldn’t turn some of those draws into wins and when it came to the play off lottery, he fell at the final hurdle.
    Clark may still prove to be a decent manager. I would say at this time, nobody knows and to write him off is folly.

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  21. Icedog how could you ? Troy’s beloved Pardew as well mate 😎 Yes under Pardew we would go on 6 game winning streaks and then win 1 game out of every seven.

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  22. Terry
    Yes that’s true about Pardews record and game streak. Statically over 4 yrs he did ok and did a decent job under the circus that’s nufc.
    Don’t mention players being sold at key times and lack of investment following a 5th place finish. That would ruin your story. 😉

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  23. Pardew had to get the best out of the deadwood to be fair. Injured players and players sold. He was one of Ashley’s ass kissing minion’s and never once complained.

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  24. Troysta: Clark’s managerial record speaks for itself – done nowt, won nowt and is now at the mighty Kilmarnock. You and Gibbo must have had a pint with him in the Percy Arms 🙂

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  25. Troy I think he was doomed after the 5th place finish. Fan’s want it all the time or better. Same happened to Robson with some of the fan’s with Venables and O’neill being the grass is greener on the other side like managers. Pardew did well under Ashley considering how badly he cuts corners.

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  26. the article sums up Pardew perfectly, of that there is no doubt.

    the big conundrum for me is how Ashley could keep the legendary Alan Pardew on a relative tight shoestring budget, yet gives the massively overrated, and clearly out of his depth McClaren a massive budget to try and ensure PL safety.

    A periferal and hypothetical question, could Pardew have achieved more had he been given equally as much financial backing as McClaren, I reckon he would perhaps keep us out of the bottom three, but nothing more.

    Neither of them should be anywhere near NUFC.

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  27. This is why I have sympathy for Carver all he had was the deadwood players. I mean what can you do with a **** squad ? Win every game.

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  28. Troy @99: arf, arf. So he failed is what you are saying but he is good enough for NUFC having not managed in the PL? Are you playing the clown or you a clown?

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  29. Ice, Yeah, points out his good points and achievements but notes his shortcomings too. He also busts the stupid myth that Toon fans wanted him out because he’s a southerner and we all expect top 4 🙄

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  30. could this be the year when ashley gets his comeuppance ?
    relegation with NUFC and the bottom falling out of the shares of his beloved SD ?

    As main toon sponsor, Wonga seem to keep a real media low profile. Or are they seriously active doing great things in the community and me as an expat haven’t noticed it ?

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