Hatem Ben Arfa has been with Newcastle United for around two seasons, although much of that time he has spent on the side lines after Nigel de Jong’s horror tackle resulted in a horrific break injury.
In that time, we have heard Hatem speak of “growing up emotionally” and reaching a realisation about what he wants from his footballing career, as he endeavours to put his baggage behind him and focus on being a model professional.
Well, it must be said, he certainly hasn’t received much bad press, despite spending a lot of time on the bench this season, and it seems he certainly has matured in this regard. The part that concerns me personally is this… Does he need to mature more as a team footballer?
When it comes to the footballing side of things, I unfortunately don’t think he has matured enough to be anywhere near as effective as he should be, considering his undoubted talent. He reminds me of a young Cristiano Ronaldo, when he first arrived at Manchester United. An incredible individual talent, but a bit of an odd sock when it comes to fitting into the team system.
Ronaldo made a great initial impact, with his trickery and skill, but defenders soon worked out he was selfish with the ball, and crowded him or fouled him out of games, until he became frustrated and quite ineffective.
We all know, however, that Ronaldo, then under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, has gone on to mature and become one of the greatest players of the modern era. He though, was a teenager, around 18 at the time. Ben Arfa is turning 25 in March and has less time on his side!
It seems on the evidence of recent games that when Ben Arfa receives the ball, he feels the need to beat two or three opposition players every time, and only then tries to make a telling pass or take an outrageous long range shot at goal.
On the odd occasion when it comes off, it looks incredible, and these moments of genius seem to have many fans idolising him, turning a blind eye to the majority of times, when he runs into brick walls ignoring team mates unmarked and in space. Perhaps he is trying too hard to impress?
Yes… he may have scored some spectacular goals, but this approach is not going to benefit the team as a whole in the long run. He is playing very much as an individual, whether we are playing on the offensive or defensive.
Skill does not excuse players from having a lack in workrate.
We only need to see the effort the likes of Messi, Xavi, Villa and Iniesta put in to win the ball back for Barcelona when they have lost possession, to see why, despite their brilliant individual talents, they work as a team.
There are moments for individual genius, and there are moments when its best to just keep things simple. If Hatem can learn to identify these moments for brilliance, and considerably up his workrate, when we are not in possession, then he would undoubtedly be the biggest asset in our side.
I suppose it is not really fair to judge him now, because he has only recently started to get some decent game time, and he hasn’t had the best of strikers to provide ammunition for.
It is difficult to put in crosses and through balls for strikers that are always stationary.
Perhaps it is this lack of confidence in our available strikers which causes him to be a bit more selfish? If that’s the case I don’t blame him. It may be a different story when he is supplying the likes of Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse.
But, what does worry me, is that he seems to carry this individualism, even off the field of play. Apparently Ben Arfa was in France during the teams recent “bonding holiday training camp” in Tenerife. Why was he not with the squad?
During injuries he returns to France, while most other players are seen in the stands watching their team-mates.
We constantly hear from Alan Pardew about Ben Arfa’s incredible self confidence, which as a top sportsman is a fantastic attribute to have. Another former Frenchman, Lauren Robert had it in abundance, and he turned out to be a fine player for us. Ben Arfa has the potential to be far superior!
However, he must realise, that in a team sport like football, no one player can consider himself above another.
You need those ten other players on the pitch, and you need to respect and trust each other.
I still have high hopes that Ben Arfa can become the player we all know he has the talent to be, but only time will tell if he has the mentality to fit in.
What are your thoughts? Does Ben Arfa just need some time, or he just too much of an individual luxury for us right now?