David Ginola’s transfer was delayed due to a fashion show commitment, while Laurent Robert was as famous for his free-kicks as he was for his fall-outs with managers during his time in England. Newcastle can’t resist a talented but temperamental winger from across the Channel. Like the girl who maintains that her wayward boyfriend will one day mend his ways no matter what her friends think, Newcastle have taken Marseille’s firebrand wide-man Hatem Ben Arfa on a season-long loan in the hope that they can curb his bad behaviour.
In just six years as a professional, Ben Arfa has had a number of public disagreements with teammates, coaches and club hierarchies. Following last season’s training ground confab between Andy Carroll and Steven Taylor, Newcastle fans might be interested to learn that their new winger got into a fight with Arsenal new-boy Sébastien Squillaci when the pair were at Lyon and he also had a meeting of minds with Djibril Cissé at Marseille two seasons ago that resulted in the striker being farmed out on loan to Sunderland. Ben Arfa had only been at Marseille for just over a fortnight prior to the Cissé incident, having forced through his big-money transfer to the south-coast club with his reluctance to report for pre-season training with Lyon. His move to Newcastle has come about under similar circumstances.
Despite Ben Arfa’s colourful history, however, he has won a lot of trophies. Last season Didier Deschamps brought Marseille their first Ligue 1 championship since they were stripped of their 1993 title but it was the fifth league-winner’s medal of the 23-year-old player’s short career. The other four medals were won with Lyon during the period in which they dominated French football. In his final season with OL, Ben Arfa was also named France’s Young Player of the Year, although the winner of the Player of the Year trophy that year was actually nine months his junior. Karim Benzema arrived on the scene at Lyon at the same time as Ben Arfa and, no matter how well the latter played, the way in which his teammate outshone him bred resentment.
With a record of 16 strikes in 127 league games in France, Newcastle shouldn’t necessarily be expecting goals from Ben Arfa, but then he has no doubt been signed to excite the fans and lay on goals for Andy Carroll instead. He will add speed and guile to a squad with no shortage of ball-winners but a relative lack of width. Ben Arfa is capable of explosive patches of form, such as for Marseille in the early part of 2010. He has also excelled in the Champions League, which is something that you can’t say about Wayne Routledge. Ben Arfa might well light up the Premier League this season, but it is still a huge gamble for Newcastle to have signed a player of his reputation when dressing room disharmony could turn a season of consolidation into one of battling against relegation.
Written By William Abbs