Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Ben Arfa's Newcastle Hell Ended by Geordie Bruce.

Many (too many) words have been written about Hatem Ben Arfa in the past year or so. Here are some more to round off the latest perplexing saga in the North-East. Newcastle fans have tended to use his potentially world-beating talent as a vehicle from which to take aim at manager Alan Pardew. Every poor performance in the Frenchman's absence would be accompanied by pro-Ben Arfa chants, designed to undermine the manager and paint the Gallic maestro as some kind of wronged political prisoner under the Ashley/Pardew regime. Che Guevara banners have become common-place in recent months. He was even forced to cancel a 'meet and greet' with fans in local venue 'The Back Page', amid club fears of whipping up some kind of anti-establishment frenzy.

There is another school of thought, one that suggests Ben Arfa's inability to track back or work as part of a tight unit was detrimental to the team spirit of Newcastle United. This has consistently been the official line coming from Pardew, and it has been suggested that the rest of the squad share this point of view, ever since last autumn's 3-2 defeat to Everton, where Ben Arfa was replaced at half-time with the score at 3-0. Ever since, he struggled to get games.

The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in between. Ben Arfa is a talent that no amount of fancy-dan recruitment can hope to replace. Remy Cabella, although excellent for Montpellier last season, does not yet fully convince as a focal creative point for an aspiring Premier League attack. More should have been done by Pardew to integrate Ben Arfa into a unit that has all too often appeared negative and anything but tight. This calendar year has seen Newcastle display relegation form, and while the Frenchman has been packed off to Hull for the remainder of his contract, Pardew must do a hell of a lot more to prove he has learnt his lessons. A talent such as Ben Arfa's should have been given more trust and room to breathe.

Yet, as Pardew will undoubtedly argue, Ben Arfa did not do quite enough on the pitch, on a sufficiently frequent basis, to earn the manager's trust. A total of 14 goals and 18 assists in 86 appearances is hardly Messi-esque, even though when he did turn it on, the fireworks were glorious. Breaking it down to cold efficient logic, even the best goals only count for one, yet the inspiration of Ben Arfa at his best lit up St James' Park, and that golden spring of 2012 will always be remembered as the time when even Pardew's handbrake was not enough to hold back a Ba/Cisse/Ben Arfa trio.

Here lies the crux. Like many on Newcastle's books (the equally banished Marveaux for one), Ben Arfa did not fit into a management style that favours hard work and industry more than anything else. Not that everyone should Berbatov their way around the pitch, but there has to be room for that lazy kind of unpredictability, the sort that gives defenders cold sweats. Siem de Jong and Cabella may yet provide the antidote to this, but surely it would have been easier to just bury the hatchet with a man who has proved he can rip the Premier League to shreds on his day.

Steve Bruce, a through-and-through Geordie (who managed Sunderland no less) will know what he is getting, and if he can coax the goods out of Ben Arfa, Pardew will look even more foolish. The best goals may only count for one, but arrogance and gross mismanagement like we have seen at Newcastle lately counts for no goals, no points, and no support.

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