Most of the news over these last few days has been about Hatem Ben Arfa after the Frenchman returned from a year out of the game against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night.
It’s understandable really. Not since the heady days of Kevin Keegan, the first time around I’ll add, have we had a player on our books who is capable of moments of sublime skill and game changing moments. In fact one of the players from the Keegan era has even said so much himself. I’m talking about former entertainer and fellow compatriot of Ben Arfa, David Ginola, who was quick to heap praise on the diminutive Frenchman yesterday.
There is a wave of optimism surrounding the return of Hatem at the moment, but I feel that a reality check is needed. Ben Arfa may have shown flashes of brilliance against Nottingham Forest in midweek, but being ready and being able to do it in the Premier League is a completely different proposition to an hour in the League Cup. Remember, a year out of the game is a long time.
Well Alan Pardew has delivered that reality check today and insists that there is still a lot of work for Hatem to do on the training ground before he can even consider him as a regular starter.
“It is a matter of when he is ready,” Pardew told The Journal. “He shows flashes of brilliance in training but I want him to do it more often in training before I bring him in.”
He continued: “It was just nice for us firstly to see him playing in a Newcastle jersey in a competitive game, and secondly to see the level he played at because I don’t think we expected him to be as sharp as he was. I would say he is one step ahead of where we thought he would be.”
Not fit enough for a start seemingly however. I happen to agree, and I’m sure those of you who made the trip to the City Ground on Tuesday will also relate to Alan Pardew’s words. Ben Arfa may have grabbed an hour of playing time, but he did visibly tire towards the end of his reappearance and in the end was waiting, hands on hips in the middle of the pitch, to be taken off by Pardew.
It’s going to take time for the fitness to get to the optimum level. Not only has he been out for a year, but he has also missed the bulk of pre-season thanks to the ankle ligament injury he sustained in America. He effectively has to go through it all again, which will involve a mixture of hard work on the training ground and brief appearances pn the pitch according to Pardew.
“Realistically he knows he has got more to do on the training ground,” said Pardew. “He smiles at me as if to say, ‘Okay, I will play next week’. There are times in the coming weeks if he has not made a start he will be kicking my door down. There has got to be a chance of him being involved off the bench against Blackburn.”
“My view is he can’t play out wide,” Pardew said, and after seeing the way he played against Forest first hand I’d be inclined to agree. “He has not got the relish for it and his best football comes through the middle.”
“It’s a great situation for us that we have been playing well without him in the team, so you would like to think he could perhaps take us up a notch or two. That we will have to find out when he is ready.”
So it seems as though patience is going to be the key. Not just for Ben Arfa, but also for some fans who are keen to see Ben Arfa back in the team sooner rather than later.
I wouldn’t read too much onto these words. To me these are psychological words from Pardew, an exercise of trying to get the best out of the player, and given what we’ve seen from Leon Best and Steven Taylor as a result of Pardew’s man management I’d have to say that he’s not done bad at it.
We’ll see if it works this time around.