He is what Sir Bobby Robson would have described as a 'conundrum'. Or at least he was. But the penny has finally dropped for Hatem Ben Arfa and the man responsible for his new-found happiness is reaping the rewards.
In the past, many coaches seemed to fall out with the star as he made flippant remarks to newspapers and seemed to have too much too young. Much like Ravel Morrison, it seemed as though his potential talent would be marred by his inflated ego (something we are currently seeing with Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli). When the Marseilles coach, Didier Deschamps, finally decided to offload him, this opened the door for the Premier League.
The player was originally bigged up to be a superstar on Tyneside after being signed on loan by Chris Hughton before being added permanently by Pardew, in a £6million deal with Marseille in January 2011. However, the young talent was unfortunately kept on the sidelines for 3 month after suffering from the double leg break in a terrible tackle by Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong – who wasn’t even given a card for the tackle.
He spent most of his recovery in France at the national football centre at Clairefontaine where he had first honed his skills as a boy. The son of a Tunisian immigrant who worked as a blacksmith, Ben Arfa first joined the academy aged 12 and was constantly described as a prodigy.
Once he had recovered, there was a lot of hype at the beginning of the season, and Ben Arfa was largely expected to play a large part in Newcastle’s pursuit of top 10 football. While we began to exceed those expectations, Ben Arfa didn’t. He had a very slow start and failed to deliver the football which we all expected of him. He had the No 10 shirt and wanted to play the expressive role that comes with it, with little focus on defence. Pardew had other ideas.
When Alan Pardew substituted Ben Arfa at half-time in Newcastle’s 3-0 home defeat by Chelsea back in December, many thought it was the beginning of the end for the maverick Frenchman. Although Ben Arfa was still short of match fitness when he was substituted against Chelsea, it began to look like the frenchman was just another expensive mistake.
It seemed unlikely then that Pardew could accommodate such a naturally gifted footballer in his side and could see no reason why he shouldn’t persevere with the pace and power of Gabriel Obertan. And the fans who booed Obertan and wanted Ben Arfa may not have liked him for it, but Pardew has always been more concerned about his team than individuals.
However, some consistently fantastic performances this season have led him to becoming one of the most sought after midfielders in Europe. There will surely be some interest for him in the Summer, but Alan Pardew and Mike Asley will be doing everything they possibly can to hold on to the midfielder who has been dubbed the next David Ginola.