If your club is in the market for a forward, the chances are they’ve been linked with Hatem Ben Arfa. The Marseille and France winger has attracted the interest of the likes of Newcastle, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as clubs in Germany and Spain. A product of the Clairefontaine academy, the 23-year-old has generated as much publicity for his football as he has for his feuding. And the prospect of signing the talented forward comes at a price.
Since his graduation from Clairefontaine, and move to Lyon in 2002, Ben Arfa has been brilliant. He has pace, supreme technique, good finishing and would add a huge amount of creativity to most teams. After being moved to the left side of a front three, although not prolific, he has chipped in with goals and racked up the assists. Constant press reports value him at anything between £5m and £10m, and for that sort of money he could be a steal. However he could also cost a club a lot more than that.
During his time at Lyon, Ben Arfa had training ground scuffles with both Karim Benzema and Sebastien Squillaci, and left the club in acrimonious circumstances when virtually forcing a move to Marseille, by refusing to report to training. Upon the completion of the €11m transfer – which needed the help of the French FA to secure the move – Ben Arfa told the Lyon newspaper, Le Progrés, that the team was never great and ‘lacked class’.
While Marseille have benefitted from fine performances from Ben Arfa, both at home and in Europe, they too have had to deal with the petulance that he is capable of. There was the bust-up between him and his teammate Modeste M’bami during the warm-up of a Ligue 1 fixture. He has missed various training sessions without reason. During Marseille’s 4-2 loss to Paris Saint Germain, when Ben Arfa was a substitute, he refused to warm-up when asked by his then coach Eric Gerets and remained in his seat, claiming he was injured. Even Gerets successor, Didier Deschamps, got into another altercation with Ben Arfa at the Marseille training ground. With the incidents involving both managers, Ben Arfa was forced to apologise to them personally, and the club in the media.
As is stands, the troublesome winger looks set for a move away from the French south coast, but his destination remains very much unclear. It all depends on how much of a liability managers consider him to be, and if any potential difficulties that might be had with the player are outweighed by what he can produce on the pitch. Even at Marseille, Ben Arfa has been in and out of the team; similarly to Joe Cole during his time at Chelsea, Ben Arfa rarely plays 90 minutes whether he is brought on or taken off. However, Marseille have performed much better when he has been playing than without. In his first 11 games for the club he managed six goals, and that sort of impact would suit any team in the Premiership. Whether Marseille would have clinched the Ligue 1 title last season without Ben Arfa’s contribution is up for debate, and yet his conflicts see them still willing to release him.
For Ben Arfa, a move to England could be the making of him; it is hard to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson putting up with that behaviour for too long, or David Moyes for that matter. But if he continued in the vein that he has done so far, he could simply be showcasing a poor attitude on a much bigger stage. Having a player that could potentially cause disruption in an already settled squad could be a massive gamble, and one that many managers would be reluctant to take. It will be interesting to see how Laurent Blanc deals with him as he starts afresh with the national team, and perhaps it will be best to keep an eye on him for another year, rather than gamble on him now.
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