Newcastle United ran away with the Championship last year, amassing over 100 points to ensure their stay in the second tier was only short-lived. The optimism and excitement brought to the fans by that success will now be curtailed by the realisation that a tough campaign in the top flight resumes with a trip to Old Trafford next week. Having already recruited Dan Gosling, Sol Campbell and James Perch the Magpies boss, Chris Hughton has registered an interest in Marseille’s Hatem Ben Arfa. The 23-year old Frenchman plays either on the left wing or as a more central attacking midfielder. The talented player has periodically failed to live up to his own celebrated reputation as progress has been hampered by ill-discipline and a volatile temperament. If Newcastle decide to sign the player, most likely on a season long loan, could they harness his ability and have the fans thinking back to David Ginola?
Signed from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 1995, David Ginola became a star in a Newcastle side labelled ‘the entertainers.’ If that was his remit he certainly met it with aplomb, delighting fans will his skilful displays on the left flank. He did more than entertain, however, becoming an integral part of Kevin Keegan’s title challenging team. Through his skilfulness and pace he habitually took on defenders, delivering excellent crosses and would cut inside to unleash a powerful right-footed strike. Ginola was never prolific in the goal-scoring stakes but when he did register it was worth watching again. Against title rivals Manchester United in the 1996/97 season he turned Gary Neville on the edge of the box and curled in a superb shot high into the top corner.
If Ben Arfa relocates to Tyneside it will be under different circumstances to that of his compatriot fifteen years earlier. Ginola’s signing was a signal of intent by the club who harboured ambitions of becoming one of Europe’s elite sides. While the singing of Ben Arfa would be regarded as something of a coup, his task would be to bring some attacking flair and penetration to a side aiming to compete in the Premier League on a more financially sustainable footing. Ben Arfa will rejoin the national fold this week after Laurent Blanc’s culling of France’s 23-man World Cup squad. The trophy laden player who won four league titles with Lyon before winning the division this year with Marseille possesses attacking attributes which have merited widespread recognition. The winger is quick, has excellent close control, attacking intelligence, dribbling skills and a powerful left-foot shot. In comparison to Ginola who once directed an elbow at Arsenal’s Lee Dixon, Ben Arfa has shoen volatility in his career. His problems at Lyon were well documented having had confrontations with Karim Benzema. His high profile move to Marseille n 2008 could not preclude the reoccurrence of such trifling indiscretions. He was fined 10,000 euros last year for missing training sessions having visited family in Tunisia after a match.
His disciplinary record may trouble some Geordies who would not wish to see the renewed emergence of any team unrest which was in evidence after Steven Taylor was hospitalised by team-mate, Andy Carroll. Undeterred Chris Hughton is believed to be negotiating with the winger’s parent club over the possibility of a season’s loan at St James’ Park. The Newcastle manager must be confident that the player can command a regular place in his starting line-up. Peter Lovenkrands has been used on the left wing but fans would much rather see the Dane lead the attack with Carroll. Following Damien Duff’s departure to Fulham, Jonas Gutierrez was often used in that role though he may wish to return to his naturalised position on the right. Moreover youngsters such as, Shane Ferguson are unlikely to be risked too early in the season. Should Newcastle acquire Ben Arfa and manage to temper his tantrums fans can expect attacking flair and entertainment on Tyneside.