This first edition of the new series ‘Where are they now?’ features our past Maverick, Hatem Ben Arfa, as voted by yourselves in the most recent Twitter poll.
Signing for Newcastle United
Newcastle acquired the signing of Hatem Ben Arfa following a successful 7 year stint in France’s top division, Ligue 1. The tricky attacker began his career at Lyon, progressing through the youth ranks before making a noticeable impression in the senior team. Throughout his time in Lyon Ben Arfa was converted from a center forward, into a winger as we all recognize him as.
He earned four league titles in Lyon before adding another to his collection while part of the Marseille squad alongside future Newcastle loanee Loic Remy. It was not until 2011 that Ben Arfa completed the transition to the Premier League. He was initially acquired on loan, however it did not take long for his potential to be highlighted and midway through his debut season Hatem Ben Arfa became a permanent Magpie for a fee of around £6.2 million
The French maverick provided some magical moments for the Toon Army, setting the tone on his debut with a brilliant long-range strike rippling the back of the net at Goodison Park.
Cast your mind back to the 2011/2012 season and you will remember two of the most impressive goals we have seen from our players in black and white, with one common feature, they were both scored by Hatem Ben Arfa.
The first, coming in an FA Cup third round match at home against Blackburn, Newcastle were trailing 0-1 in the 70th minute. Ben Arfa decided to take things into his own hands, and upon receiving the ball 10 yards inside the Blackburn half he weaved his way past four players before facing another defender in the shape of Martin Olsson. He took on the defender inside the box shifting the ball from left to right, twisting the Swedish defender inside out before firing the ball from a relatively tight angle in the top corner of the net. The scoreline sat at 1-1 before Jonas Gutierez scored late on to give Newcastle the win.
Just months after this sensational solo goal, the tricky Frenchman decided to go one better against Bolton. This time beginning his electric run from inside his own half, he left a multitude of defenders in his wake with a burst of pace, driving straight though the opposition before coolly slotting the ball past the helpless keeper.
Ben Arfa contributed more than just 2 spectacular goals during his time in the North East, he also scored and set-up some crucial goals for the Magpies. During the start of the 13/14 season Ben Arfa acted as a catalyst for the Magpies who, as a whole squad, were enduring a very slow start to the season.
He both won and converted a penalty on the opening day against Tottenham in a 2-1 win, before firing in a long-range strike against Aston Villa earning a 1-1 draw just a few weeks later to ensure the teams points tally was not one that drew early links to a relegation battle. The number 10 also converted a penalty in a vitally important 2-1 win away at QPR to ensure Premier League football would be returning to St James Park in the following season.
On reflection Ben Arfa bought more than just entertainment and excitement to the North East, he also scored some crucial goals, and often dragged the team through games almost single-handedly.
Where have they been?
The winger was forced out of Newcastle under Alan Pardew due to disciplinary issues. There were initial doubts about this claim with the conception that the true reason was a falling out between manager and player, however the subsequent transfer to Hull perhaps underlined the gaps in Ben Arfa’s professional attitude.
The winger went on to make just 8 appearances for the club, appearing to lack match fitness, drive, and importantly goals from his overall play. Just 4 months into the loan spell Ben Arfa, according to Steve Bruce, ‘disappeared’ from England as he attempted to force through a move to his native France.
Eventually a return back home did come to fruition for Ben Arfa, earning a move to Nice. This move, however did come with its complications, while perhaps being a blessing in disguise for the Frenchman.
Due to playing for both Newcastle, and Hull Ben Arfa was ineligible to play for the club until the following transfer window. This time out allowed Ben Arfa to recover his match fitness, and perhaps claw back his hunger for the game. When finally appearing for Nice, he truly was in the form of his life, scoring a total of 18 goals in 37 games, Ben Arfa was one of the best dribblers on earth across that season and earned a move to the French Champions, PSG.
This transfer did not go to plan at all for either party. It started smoothly with Ben Arfa contributing goals and assists when he was on the pitch, but off the pitch things were getting heated between player and manager, Unai Emery.
Due to disciplinary issues the Frenchman was sent to train with the reserves, this did not ignite the correct response, and a year later, after making no senior appearances for the club, Hatem celebrated the 1 year anniversary of being excluded from the team with a cake and a 1 year candle. His contract was terminated shortly after.
Ben Arfa, then moved to Rennes where he again found his feet, notching 7 goals in 26 games. The club reached the Coupe de France final against a certain PSG, a match which Ben Arfa appeared in, and got one over on his old club with penalties deciding Rennes would lift the trophy.
The Frenchman is currently playing for Valladolid, a Spanish team in the top flight, where Ben Arfa is currently on a six month contract. He has currently appeared twice for the club, yet to be named on the score sheet, but as often the case with the French maverick, his future remains unknown.
Was the grass greener?
No – Although you can argue HBA, has gone on to win silverware, and represent the French Champions, I believe he had the potential to become a true Newcastle legend. It appears the behavioral aspect of the Frenchman was his drawback, and who knows where his talent would have got him if he was as professional as some of the players in our current squad.
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