Liverpool are reportedly monitoring Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa ahead of making a proposed summer move, but with a troubled past off the pitch and more than his fair share of injuries picked up on it, would Brendan Rodgers be better off looking elsewhere around the continent in search of more attacking width?
The 26-year-old has been reduced to just 14 Premier League appearances this season for Alan Pardew’s struggling side, after enjoying a superb season last year, helping the Magpies to a surprising fifth-placed finish. Having been interested in moving for the Frenchman during the January transfer window, it’s thought that Liverpool will follow up their initial interest with a more concrete proposal at the end of the season.
This is where the rumour falls down for me, as it’s closely interlinked with a supposed swap deal for on-loan striker Andy Carroll, currently returning to goalscoring form at Upton Park with West Ham. Pardew has spoken of his desire to bring the Geordie target man back to the club in the future before, but not for the money mentioned, but having failed to fully replace Demba Ba up top, their squad requires more depth to support the limited but nonetheless dangerous Papiss Cisse.
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Of course, with newspapers loving the old swap deal transfer rumour, in reality, they very rarely come off – the last of which as memory serves included a monetary exchange involving James Milner’s move to Manchester City in 2010 with Stephen Ireland going in the other direction to Aston Villa. If Liverpool move for Ben Arfa, you can bet your last penny that they won’t involve Carroll, who is still a highly saleable asset and someone they feel they could get upwards of £15m for.
It even sounds like Ben Arfa wants to stay put, scuppering any hopes of a hugely unlikely deal, telling reporters last week: “I want to stay here. My agent and I have not talked about a move. I am focused on Newcastle and 100 per cent on Newcastle. I hope to stay. It has been a difficult period. It has taken quite a while to get back to full fitness, but that is normal.
“I am completely over all of this now. I am 100 per cent OK and looking forward to playing in the rest of the season. Hopefully, I can have a good game and make the fans really happy. The supporters have stuck with me through some difficult times, and it would be nice to repay them.”
The intention from Rodgers’ perspective is clear, he wants and needs to add more goals in wide areas, with Ben Arfa’s tally of seven last season an attractive amount when compared to Stewart Downing who has just seven in 86 games across all competitions in two seasons on Merseyside. The January acquisition of Phillipe Coutinho was a step in the right direction, but the side can still appear as if it lacks balance, with both trying to cut inside off the flank far too often and they require a more direct threat with genuine pace and ability to beat a man as opposed to another tricky winger capable of spotting a pass.
There’s a clear willingness to move for someone that can hug the touchline but who represents a significant step up in quality and ability on Oussama Assaidi, who has flopped after being purchased on the say so of former director of communications Jen Chang as opposed to any desire from Rodgers to move for him. With his Swansea side boasting the likes of Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge, it’s an area of the pitch where’s he’s had great success in the past and the current Liverpool side is crying out for more penetration and pace out wide; Ben Arfa fits the bill, but certainly not if Carroll is in any way involved.
There’s also the factor that the France international is something of a rotten egg, falling out with Didier Deschamps while at Marseille, while the way he forced through a move to them from Lyon and then later to Newcastle speaks volumes about his questionable character, trying on two attempts at separate clubs to go on strike to get what he wanted. As Newcastle saw with Demba Ba, a player with a similarly chequered past in that respect, these sort of players often get their way eventually.
When you factor in that while at Lyon, he endured a rocky relationship with Karim Benzema and was involved in a training ground scuffle with Arsenal’s forgotten man Sebastien Squillaci and it sounds more and more as if Ben Arfa is simply more hassle than he’s worth. He’s clearly an exceptional talent, but one that won’t either come cheaply or without baggage and he’s precisely the sort of divisive dressing room character Liverpool could do without right now, as they seek to mount a top four challenge next season.
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