Hatem Ben Arfa is once again in the spotlight, having revived his career in Nice. With 11 goals and two assists so far, the former Newcastle misfit drew attention of top-flight European clubs. Milan and Internazionale are supposedly fighting for his signature in the summer of 2016, but it seems that PSG and Laurent Blanc have different plans for the temperamental creative midfielder. Les Parisiens admitted they are “keeping tabs” on Hatem, whose outstanding performances took Nice to the 3rd place in the Ligue 1. Who would have thought that Ben Arfa would be living the dream once again, especially taking under consideration that he was minutes away from a retirement decision just one year ago, but let us start from the beginning.
A football prodigy with a questionable temperament
Ben Arfa signed his first professional contract with Lyon, as one of the pearls from the Lyon academy, alongside Karim Benzema. As very young he was marked as a football prodigy in France, and the newspapers filled the headlines, foreseeing his amazing career. And he started to fulfill the prophecy, earning the Young Player of the Year award in the season 2007/2008. The youngster was living his dream, putting on amazing performances, which resulted with the call-up to the French senior team, led by Raymond Domenech at the time, and he made a couple of appearances in the qualification round, but did not made the final squad for the Euro 2008. The first indications of his problematic temperament came to light after the alleged disputes with Karim Benzema, but the rumors were denied with him signing a new contract with Lyon in 2008, or so it was thought, since his fight with Sébastien Squillaci marked the end of his stay at Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
Than the Marseille soap opera started. Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal and even Real Madrid wanted to take the advantage of the current situation, but he decided to further his career in Olympique de Marseille. Lyon were reluctant to strengthen their rivals, wanted to cancel the transfer, but Hatem stated he will not come back to training sessions, he simply wanted out, and in the end everything was settled by the Ligue de Football Professionnel. Ben Arfa got what he wanted, Lyon got a fair price and Les Phocéens got a troublesome player who immediately continued with his erratic behavior. His bust-ups with Djibri Cisse, Modeste M’bami, brawls with Eric Gerets, and absences from training sessions led to fines and the further downfall of the prolific winger. When Dechamps took over, it was the begging of the end of Ben Arfa’s Marseille spell. Even though he recorded several miraculous showings, and was selected as the Player of the Month in February 2010, he spent more time on the bench, and was sent to Newcastle in a loan deal the following summer.
The hell period occured in England
Another transfer, another soap opera. Two clubs reached an agreement, but the French troublemaker set his personal terms high, which could have resulted with a transfer crash, but everything worked out fine. After a rather good start, he suffered a broken leg thanks to Nigel de Jong’s ruthless tackle, and was out for a significant period of time, but the Magpies decided to keep him permanently, with a four-and-a-half-year long contract. The 2010/2011 season was over for him, since a series of complicated surgeries and a long rehabilitation process made Alan Pardew decide that he would not risk to renew the player’s injury with a premature come back. In the following season, the old Ben Arfa was back. The French international was one of the key players in Pardew’s team, his goals were rated as “magical”, “moments of genius” and the next two seasons were mostly about football and injuries, so everybody thought that he would finally reach his full potential and become a top-class player as it was foretold. But in the second half of the 2013/2014 season, he started to look disinterested on the pitch and proved to be largely ineffectual in several occasions. Pardew confessed that he was having a lot of trouble with Hatem’s behavior, but that he thinks he managed Ben Arfa well, despite more than a few off-pitch matters.
During the summer of 2014, a falling out with Pardew resulted in him being forced to train with the club’s juniors, which was unfair, if you ask Hatem, but it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that his problematic temperament came back to life, if it ever seized to exist. The self-centered player later stated that everybody in Newcastle turned their back on him and that he was going through hell, that he was on his own in an endless tunnel with no support, no one to guide him through the fog. He did not know where he was going, but he simply knew the path was wrong. Eventually, he was sent to Hull City on a loan deal, but continued to create problems, culminating with him leaving England unexpectedly. Hull manager Steve Bruce later admitted he did not know where the player was, which meant his spell with the Tigers was over. Pardew realized there is no point in holding the player anymore, so the Magpies released Ben Arfa from his contract, and the French international joined Nice, but couldn’t make an appearance before the season ended, due to FIFA regulations. During his six-month exile from football he was going through a rough patch, even considering the option to end his professional career.
Back to heaven
The hell period came to an end, fortunately enough. Former Newcastle outcast found happiness in Nice, a full supporting coach and an understanding environment. He is flying high this season, being the main reason Les Aiglons are fighting for a Champions League spot and returning to the national team after a long pause. His performances of late started attracting the attention of mayor clubs and the chances are he will return to his home town, since the French media are seemingly convinced Paris Saint Germain will sign the bad boy in the summer.
But the question remains – did his recent painful experience made him a better man, or is he an accident bound to happen? I think time will tell.