How far would Newcastle fall when they opted to sell Andy Carroll in January of last year? The club’s supporters expressed huge levels of dissatisfaction at the appointment of Alan Pardew as manager, and it was a great act of heresy to officially change the name of the club’s iconic stadium.
The poison that saw the club relegated was effectively washed away, yet little niggles remained. However, at this stage, I’ve yet to be more impressed with a football club in the Premier League.
The signing of Papiss Cisse seemed to happen in flash. That now famed scouting network at Newcastle had brought to light another gem from the continent who so many had overlooked in the past. Demba Ba was a gamble that paid off extremely well, while no one could have predicted the impact Yohan Cabaye would have had at the club.
But the signing of Hatem Ben Arfa was the difference maker. It was, without cheaply using the term, a superstar signing the club needed.
It shouldn’t take a great deal of knowledge of French football to know that Ben Arfa was one of the two darlings of Olympique Lyon’s side. Alongside Karim Benzema, the two youngsters were lighting up Ligue 1 and forcing their way to successive league titles. How long would it be before one of the big names in European football grabbed both of those stars?
It also shouldn’t take a lot of knowledge to know that Ben Arfa and Benzema were hardly best mates off the pitch. The club knew who the bigger money-maker was and who was worth letting go. Ben Arfa’s move to league rivals Marseille allowed all of the focus to be switched to Benzema but also raised questions as to what Ben Arfa’s future would hold.
Even now, I’m stunned that Newcastle were able to land Ben Arfa largely unopposed. The midfielder’s injury early in his first season should have brought back one of those nagging worries at the club. Would Newcastle be given a good run without any major headaches or complications?
But Ben Arfa has returned as if he’d only been away nursing a slight muscle problem. His talent has by no means diminished and he is undoubtedly the superstar of this Newcastle side.
His wizardry in midfield was made even more apparent following that wonderful solo goal last season against Bolton, while he has an insatiable desire to further his already magnificent talent.
Ben Arfa always seemed destined for the Premier League, but it was obviously a little way south that his more likely destination was. Arsenal had expressed interest in the player many times, with the club opting for Samir Nasri instead during the summer of 2008.
The Newcastle midfielder, however, is capable of playing for a Real Madrid or AC Milan, and he’s even more capable of becoming an important figure at one of those clubs.
But that shouldn’t worry Newcastle fans just yet. This is a club who want to prove they can be mainstays among the giants of the Premier League and they have more than enough talent to launch that attack. The dizzying heights will be the Champions League, where the injection of revenue will only help this Newcastle side to further establish their credentials as heavyweights in English football.
But the important figure is Ben Arfa. A player who, like many, was born to play with the elites in club football’s grandest competition. This isn’t a player who looks set to depart for sunnier shores just yet, instead he’ll help bring the sunshine and Hollywood lights to Tyneside by acting as the bedrock for Newcastle’s drive to the Champions league.
Hatem Ben Arfa is a ready-made European superstar at the club. He didn’t force the club to part with hazardous transfer fees, nor did he push the club down an avenue of parting with other established players in order to fund his arrival. This is very much the key figure in Newcastle’s exciting side, and a player who will help the reputation of Pardew’s wonderfully assembled band of continental talents to grow even further.