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Flatline: The Underachieving Enigmas

My good friend and fellow Talk TV talisman Roy Kaviani is adamant that Alain Saint-Maximin was 'the one that got away', an irresistible goal threat who could have propelled our side into the top-four this season.

ASM is one of many mythical beings whom the famous black and white shirt has adorned over the past several decades – an all-out attacker who only once achieved seasonal double figures for goal contributions (sneaking 10 goals and assists in 2021-22), and one of many who flattered to deceive.

Perhaps football is not as linear as numbers on a spreadsheet, but ASM’s 13 goals and 19 assists in 124 matches for NUFC suggests he never got close to... maximising his potential.

While it is tempting to revert to the rose-tinted nostalgia of sporadic sorcery, the reality is for every barnstorming display there were three akin to a Sunday League player.

ASM has only managed four goals in 27 matches for Al-Ahli in the Saudi Pro League this term, and as he enters his 28th year is yet to receive a full national call-up.

But Maxi isn’t alone, here are some other mercurial former Magpies who underwhelmed.

Hatem Ben-Arfa (2010-15)

A generational talent, hailed as ‘better than Ronaldo and Messi’ by the likes of Djibril Cisse and Mamadou Sakho, Hatem was all sizzle and not enough steak.

His fleeting genius provided a lengthy highlight reel of jaw-dropping quality, but tinged by a paucity of quantity.

A suspect attitude meant the brilliant winger – a far superior dribbler to Maxi – only managed 14 goals and 12 assists in 86 matches.

His Magpies apex arrived under Alan Pardew as part of a (briefly) dazzling front three alongside Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba.

Fading from the scene, a cocktail of injuries, weight gain and general disinterest led to an ineffectual loan spell with Hull before he ditched the Prem to return to France on a free.

Jon Dahl Tomasson (1997-98)

A £2.2m purchase from Heerenveen in the Ereridvisie, 20 year-old Tomasson was regarded as one of the brightest young players in world football.

Snubbing Sunderland the previous winter, the Danish wonderkid was seen as an ideal replacement for the departing Peter Beardsley by Toon manager Kenny Dalglish.

He prospered in pre-season, filling a number ten role behind either Alan Shearer or Les Ferdinand to net five times in as many matches, proving clinical when a chance presented itself.

Ferdinand was soon, inexplicably, sold to Spurs, with Shearer suffering an ankle ligament injury while Les completed his medical in London.

With last season's 49-goal strike force of Big Al and Big Les indisposed, little Jon was tasked with supporting TIno Asprilla - the Colombian's unpredictability throwing off his cadence.

When the South American was also sold mid-season, the onus for leading the line variously landed upon a combination of pensioners, midfield players and youngster Tomasson.

He was gifted a goal from a deflected Des Hamilton shot (it flicked Jon's arse on the way through), but only managed a paltry 4 strikes in 35 matches over the season.

He was subsequently sold for a small profit to Feyenoord, where his incredible career really took off, winning the Champions League with AC Milan and becoming Denmark's equal highest goal-scorer of all-time.

With both Ruud Gullit and Sir Bobby known admirers, Tomasson could still have proven a success if he'd hung on for a couple more months - definitely one that got away.

Florian Thauvin (2015-17)

This 22 year-old was symptomatic of Mike Ashley's short-sighted rein at the club.

The Frenchman was coerced into joining against his will with a massive pay rise, despite not speaking English and being adverse to cold weather (his previous club being Marseille in the balmy south of France).

No less than Arsene Wenger allegedly advised then Toon manager Steve McClaren against the signing, labelling Thauvin a 'homebird', but it was out of the bumbling Head Coach's hands and the young winger was soon snapped up in a deal which saw an £11m outlay and Remy Cabella go the other way temporarily.

A decent cameo at Old Trafford and man-of-the-match outing against the might of Northampton (check the video above) failed to mask his ineptitude during a short-lived tenure at the club.

Loaned back to Marseille in 2016-17, he re-joined his former team in time for the following season, going on to flourish and become part of the French national squad.

Patrick Kluivert (2004-05)

Where to start with this one?

A global superstar, Newcastle fans were licking their lips when Kluivert joined on a free transfer from Barcelona.

He had endeared himself to the Toon fans during the Spanish giants' 2-0 victory at St James' Park in the Champions League, receiving a standing ovation as he was replaced late on.

Snubbing Middlesbrough in favour of Sir Bobby Robson's Magpies, Patrick - who was just 28 years of age at the time - was expected to form a fearsome frontline alongside the ageing but effective Alan Shearer.

A superb goal against Aston Villa in Robson's final game looked like setting him on his way, and he began promisingly as part of a front three with Bellamy and Shearer under the tutelage of Graeme Souness - proving particularly effective in the UEFA Cup, where he scored five goals in six matches.

A propensity for partying took its toll and the Dutch star noticeably faded as the campaign progressed, ending with a disappointing 13 goals.

With Newcastle failing to make the top half of the Premier League - a condition of Kluivert staying for a second season - the disgruntled striker decided to move on, each transfer reaping dwindling dividends.

A case of the right player at the wrong time.

Louis Saha (1999)

The highly rated 20 year-old striker was signed on loan from Metz by Ruud Gullit in 1999.

Despite scoring just 2 goals in 12 matches, he showed plenty of promise, and his FA Cup strike against Blackburn Rovers was a thing of beauty.

The Dutch manager wasn't convinced enough to sanction a £1.5m deal in the summer, requesting a second loan, which the French club abruptly rejected.

Another season at Metz was followed by a breakout campaign with Fulham, starring role at Manchester United, French caps and a decent stint at Everton.

On the plus side, a 33 year-old Saha failed to net during a 14-game spell with Sunderland.

Think we missed anyone? Get in touch with Dom on Twitter/X @WriteOnDom

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