When Hatem Ben Arfa joined Newcastle in 2011, it raised a few eyebrows. Many thought he could do better, and wondered why Bigger clubs were not trying to sign the Frenchman. Even I as a Newcastle fan never though in a million years the Mercurial talent would end up at St James’ Park, not even in my wildest football related dreams.
Like the Winged-Wizards that have preceded him, namely Laurent Robert and David Ginola – Ben Arfa has something special about him. The ability to repeatedly embarrass the best of defenders, to pick a pass that nobody else would even try and to cut through defenders like a knife through hot butter. Equally, he had in large quantities, the ability to frustrate fans and coaches alike, with consistency being his main problem.
Whilst at Lyon and Marseille, he never saw eye to eye with any manager, leaving both clubs on the back of fallings out with Deschamps and the Lyon manager at the time. Even going back to the days at the famed Clairfontaine Academy, he fell out with Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby to name but a few, and had massive falling outs with Djibril Cisse and Sebastien Squillaci while in France. Fans of those clubs were not his biggest allies either. Journalists believed when he joined Newcastle, on loan to begin with, that this would be his undoing, with Alan Pardew not being very good with big named foreign stars (Mascherano, Tevez etc) but to his credit AP managed him well, giving him an attacking role either behind the front men or on the wing where he could dictate play, to begin with.
His first season started brightly, with a wonder-goal against Everton as well as several top performances. Then came Man City – and Nigel de Jong with a rather innocuous tackle ended his season, leaving him on the floor with a double leg break, not even a foul according to the referee. After recovering he then suffered Ankle Ligament damage during a pre-season game with Columbus Crew, leaving him out until several weeks into the season. Once back and fully fit (His 2nd season with the club), just after Christmas he hit his stride, with many a world class goal from 20/30 yards out, and two against Bolton and Blackburn that were worthy of Messi himself, beating 6-8 players from inside his own half and slotting past the keeper. In a three pronged attack with Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, he fired Newcastle to 5th place and back into Europe. Such form earned him a recall to the France squad for Euro 2012.
Into the 2012/13 season he found a few fitness issues, after suffering more injuries, and fatally thrown back into a game in Brugge which put him out for another 4-6 weeks. As usual with such a player he scored a few crackers and helped Newcastle past teams such as Anji and Metalist to reach the Quarters in the Europa League, and so nearly the Semi Final, but the team fell to Benfica.
Problems have come to a head this season though, with a couple more knocks and returning from the summer overweight, and not dropping it very quickly. He has been in and out of the team, and after a decent first half, Newcastle lost form and lost a hell of a lot of games, with HBA being used as a Scapegoat, despite being given very little game time. Pardew has insisted he tracks back, and of course you all know most Forwards’ cannot tackle – and several free kicks and even a penalty were given away. Recently it has been rumoured that he has massively fallen out with Pardew, and told him exactly what he thinks of his tactics (not a lot obviously). He has fallen out with a few other players, with Captain Fabricio Coloccini unhappy he returned to the lineup so soon after openly lambasting the manager after the 4-0 defeat to Man Utd.
On his side though are the fans. In my opinion and that of many others he is the best players that has been at the club in years, and on his day one of the best in the league. However under the management of Alan Pardew he is wasted, with a counter attacking style mixed with sitting very deep not suiting him. He was sent away from the main squad in early May, and did not travel for the final game of the season at Liverpool, with Pardew telling the media that He, Marveaux and Gabby Obertan had been sent on their holidays early.
It seems that his days a very numbered, with the management set to have a summer clear out. At £5m he was a bargain by anyone’s standards and with 14 Goals and 18 Assists in just over 80 games, he will always be considered as one of the best players to grace the famous turf at St James’ Park, despite the fact nearly 18 months was spent on the sidelines. The main reason I think he stayed so long was because he was utterly adored by the fans, he often said in interviews he loved that the fans always wanted him to get the ball and create, attack and score goals.
Quite frankly, even from any fan at Newcastle, they will tell you he deserves better than to be blamed for everything by Pardew. He may have some discipline issues, but in no way should he be treated like he has been. If he does leave, I wish him all the best – he is a fantastic player who was once rated higher than Karim Benzema while at Lyon. There is interest from all over the place, with Inter and Monaco keen on signing him, especially with a year left on his current deal.
Unlike the departures of Carroll, Barton or Enrique, nobody will blame him for going. It could have been so magical for him at Newcastle, but through a mixture of misfortune and mismanagement, it never quite came to fruition. Two words sum him up quite frankly – Astonishing and Frustrating. He has scored some of the best goals I have ever seen while at Newcastle, but also gone through patches where he was incredibly ball-greedy and squandered good positions many times by opting to shoot from a stupid place or take on three defenders, rather than pass to a better-placed team mate.
One thing I am certain of is that Newcastle could be letting go of the best player they will have for a while. Under Ashley I cannot see anyone better going, due to Pardew to be honest. The fans deserve a lot better, and so do the current crop of players. They have so many talented players that are wasted – Yanga Mbiwa won Ligue 1 with Montpellier, and was a France International. Now he is a Right Back in the Reserve team. Papiss Cisse has gone from scoring wonder-goals to missing sitters. More – Marveaux, Anita, Sissoko, even Gouffran have gone downhill under Pardew. The sale of influential midfielder Yohan Cabaye has clearly had an effect, but even before he left 5 of the 7 games before departure were lost.
If Pardew stays, and these players are to keep performing like they are, Newcastle will be flirting with Relegation once again, and that is a fact! Any fan will tell you similar, but if they somehow keep this Genius, he may be the saviour.