Injury prone and inconsistent, yet ingenious and indescribable, such is the story of Hatem Ben Arfa’s tumultuous time at Newcastle United.
The arrival of Ben Arfa in 2010, on a season-long loan from Marseille, was met with much excitement by the Toon Army. The skillful winger’s global reputation as one of France’s brightest talents had many Newcastle fans feeling hopeful that their new star would be the man to change their fortunes.
A goal against Everton on his full debut suggested that the fans were right to feel optimistic, but such optimism turned to dismay less than a month later when Ben Arfa suffered a horrendous leg break during a Premier League match against Man City.
It was a cruel blow for both club and player as Ben Arfa would not play another game for the rest of the season. Despite his injury though, Newcastle opted to sign Ben Arfa permanently in the January transfer market and spent the rest of the season focussed on his rehabilitation for the following campaign.
As things would have it, Ben Arfa missed the start of the 2011-12 season through an ankle injury, which he sustained in a pre-season friendly in the USA, and only returned mid-way through September. The lengthy lay-off had clearly taken its toll on the Frenchman who, despite showing the odd flash of brilliance, was largely ineffective for the first half of the season.
A goal against Bolton on Boxing Day, however, proved to be the spark that he had needed to finally kick start his career at St. James Park. From that point on it was evident that the magician in Ben Arfa had been reborn as the Frenchman followed that strike up with a wonderful goal in the FA Cup against Blackburn in January.
March of 2012 was an equally impressive month for Ben Arfa who scored one and assisted another two as Newcastle beat West Brom 3-1 before scoring a genuine contender for goal of the season against Bolton on Easter Monday. The goal – a combination of pace, power, and supreme ball control – illustrated everything that was special about Ben Arfa and crowned what could ultimately be termed as a good year for him.
The French international featured in 30 games for the Magpies across all competitions, contributing a total 6 goals on his way to helping Newcastle achieve Europa League status.
Things picked up where they left off for the start of the 2012-13 campaign with Ben Arfa scoring two goals in his first three appearances of the season – including a 25-yard screamer with his weaker foot against Aston Villa. The early promise soon wore off though with Ben Arfa’s fitness issues (which had resurfaced following France’s Euro 2012 campaign) catching up with him, resulting in a dip in form and more seriously, a string of crippling injuries.
Ben Arfa’s inconsistencies, injuries and growing weight concerns restricted him to just 19 league appearances for the season. Worse still, the attitude problems that had surrounded the player throughout his time in France began to reappear and would ultimately have a detrimental effect on his relationship with then-manager Alan Pardew.
A sparkling start to the 2013-14 season gave supporters hope that perhaps Ben Arfa had once again put his troubles behind him. A brilliant solo goal against Fulham and an excellent all-round performance against Aston Villa soon after had the Newcastle faithful chanting his name once more.
His early form proved to be no more than a false dawn though, with frustrating performances and a growing rift with Pardew relegating Ben Arfa to cameo appearances for the majority of the season. By the time the season drew to a close the relationship between manager and player had broken down to such an extent that Ben Arfa was no longer allowed to train with the first team.
The absence of the mercurial midfielder from the Magpies’ squad frustrated and infuriated the clubs’ fans who longed for a spark of invention in a struggling Newcastle squad. Ben Arfa, the player they believed capable of providing this creativity, became the poster-boy for the ‘Pardew Out’ sect of the Newcastle fans.
But it was Pardew who had the last laugh. The start of the 2014-15 campaign saw the misfit shipped out to rivals Hull on a season-long loan – an unbelievable fall from grace for a player who was once compared to the great Zinedine Zidane. Unsurprisingly, the loan move lasted less than four months with Ben Arfa deserting his role at Hull and leaving England altogether in December in a bid to return to France.
Ironically, it was a similar tactic that the Frenchman had used to force a move through to Newcastle just four and a half years earlier. The loan agreement with Hull was subsequently terminated and on the 4th of January 2015 Newcastle announced that they had released Ben Arfa from his contract with the club.
Despite the erratic nature of Ben Arfa’s time on Tyneside, he was adored by the Newcastle faithful who had come to love their unpredictable number 10. There was a certain thrill that was aroused when watching Ben Arfa. At any given moment the maverick had the ability to be a world beater, quite literally able to win a game on his own. And yet, as though by a snap of a finger, all semblance of his uncharted ability could vanish as though never there.
One day he was a puppeteer, pulling the strings in Newcastle’s attack and capable of scoring outrageous goals. While, the next, he was frustrating and temperamental, trying to do it all himself with hopeless long-shots and selfish dribbles.
The Frenchman was catastrophic at his lowest, a negative influence off the pitch and a frustrating figure on it. But at his peak he was a magician, a game changer, and a match-winner. Hatem Ben Arfa was a Jekyll and Hyde footballer, an enigma if ever there was one.
Paul Dummett’s Wales snub will please Newcastle United fans
The Welshman turned down an international call-up this week.
Paul Dummett has been one of the standout players for Newcastle United this season and his performances haven’t passed Ryan Giggs by.
The new Wales National Team manager has admitted that he has spoken to the left-back with a view to a return to the squad. The Chronicle reported the following quotes:
“I had a conversation with Paul Dummett, because he hasn’t been in the last few squads, and he just felt that it wasn’t the right time to come back.
“He wanted to concentrate on his Newcastle career which I have to respect, and we move on.
“He (Dummett) said that he wanted to concentrate on Newcastle’s relegation fight so I have to respect that at the moment. In the future we will wait and see.”
That will be music to the ears of Newcastle supporters and Rafa Benitez, as Dummett has emerged as a key player for the team since his return from injury.
This season in the Premier League, the Magpies have conceded only 13 times in the 12 matches that the 26-year-old has started.
That underlines how effective he has been and his importance to the team’s chances of staying in the top-flight.
Although he may not be the most exciting player to watch, Dummett is very good at carrying out a role for the team and it is no surprise that he has become one of Benitez’s most trusted lieutenants.
The Spanish manager enjoys to coach players that listen and carry out his instructions to the letter and his left-back certainly fits under that description.
A quick look at the stats shows how rounded Dummett is as a defender.
He averages 2.83 ball recoveries, 0.78 blocks and 6.85 clearances per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he is very good in the air as shown by his aerial duels win rate of 57.41%.
He was once a scapegoat for Newcastle supporters and the focus of anger when things weren’t going well. The reason for that was his lack of technical skill, which would make him stand out on the pitch.
However, that side of his game has developed and he is now serviceable in possession. Dummett isn’t going to be cutting sides open with his attacking threat down the left, but he understands his own limitations and that has seen him improve as a player.
The 26-year-old has been part of Wales squads in the past, but he has only played once for his country and his lack of game-time may be a reason why he stepped away from the international arena.
Last summer, Newcastle issued a statement to explain why Dummett withdrew from the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Serbia, which featured the following quote:
“After a gruelling campaign with the Magpies, in which he played through the pain barrier on several occasions, 25-year-old Dummett is keen to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family and friends in order to ensure he is at peak form and fitness for his hometown team’s return to the Premier League and what promises to be a big campaign for both him and the club.
“He has been supported in his decision by Newcastle boss Rafa Benítez.
“However, Dummett – who has represented his country from youth level all the way to the senior team – has not closed the door on his international career and hopes to represent the Dragons again in the future.”
It is clear that Newcastle is the priority for Dummett, but it is interesting that he refused to close the door on Wales last summer.
A managerial change since then may lead to further opportunities for the left-back and it is easy to see why Giggs has already reached out to him.
The Newcastle full-back has developed into a Premier League calibre player under Benitez and he will offer an upgrade on the options currently in the Wales squad.
For him, as a player, it may be beneficial to play international football and gain experience at the highest level. Although he didn’t agree to come back at this time, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t return to the fold in the near future. Both parties would benefit from that.
Newcastle United fans are livid at Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad
Newcastle fans cannot believe Jonjo Shelvey is not in the England squad.
Gareth Southgate announced his latest England squad earlier today and for Newcastle United fans it was not well received. Newcastle fans were left dumbfounded by the absence of Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles.
Both players have been in good form for Rafa Benitez’s side this season but obviously not enough to make the England team.
The main reason why Newcastle fans have been so frustrated at the omission of the pair revolves around the players who have actually been called up by Southgate.
In particular, not many fans can understand how Jake Livermore gets the nod ahead of the Shelvey. Livermore has had a poor season with Premier League basement club West Brom and recently made headlines for the wrong reasons. He was one of several West Brom players reprimanded for stealing a taxi in Barcelona last month. Shelvey has outperformed the West Brom player throughout the campaign.
Southgate also gave debut call-ups to Burnley defender James Tarkowski and Swansea City centre-back Alfie Mawson. Their inclusion ahead of Newcastle captain also baffled many fans at St James’ Park. Whilst Tarkowski and Mawson have both had good seasons, it is hard to see how either has bettered Lascelles throughout the campaign.
Southgate has decided to experiment with that pair entering the fray, but for many, the Newcastle players were far more deserving.
Such sentiment is not reserved for just Newcastle fans either, with the majority of fans believing both Newcastle players deserved a chance.
This was seemingly both players last chance to make the England squad for the World Cup in the summer.
Here is some of the best reaction to the news on Twitter…
How on earth does Jake Livermore get in the England squad ahead of Jonjo Shelvey?
— Luke Edwards (@LukeEdwardsTele) March 15, 2018
Lewis Cook and Jake Livermore over Jonjo Shelvey. What’s Southgate smoking?
— NUFC 360 (@NUFC360) March 15, 2018
Cudnt care less about England and never have done for years now,livermore over shelvey just confirms why!
— Paul Wardle (@paulwallsend) March 15, 2018
Jonjo Shelvey is such an under-rated footballer and the fact Jake Livermore gets England caps ahead of him is mind blowing.
— David (@DTweeting101) March 10, 2018
Bad call from Southgate with the @England squad…Cook and Livermore over Shelvey?… Very disappointing
— camerongalloway_ (@djcgall) March 15, 2018
— Steven Lynn (@StevenLynn87) March 15, 2018
Livermore but no Shelvey? Whuuuuuut? #England
— Jack Bridgeman ? (@bridgeman_jack) March 15, 2018
— Matty (@m_atty90) March 15, 2018
Livermore in and not shelvey. Wtf ?????
— Craig Allen (@goobs9) March 15, 2018
Jonjo Shelvey getting overlooked for Jake Livermore ?? https://t.co/MC0t9kgxXX
— Leeming (@I_Leeming) March 15, 2018
Think Lascelles over Mawson any day but the criminal pick here is Livermore over Shelvey
— Myles (@MylesG_9) March 15, 2018
— CompleteNUFC (@CompleteNUFC) March 15, 2018
Livermore ahead of shelvey is an absolute JOKE. No lascelles is an even bigger joke.
— Stacy Young (@Stacyluvmusic) March 15, 2018
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley must release funds to Kenedy this summer
The forward scored twice in the Magpie’s weekend victory over Southampton.
Newcastle United took a huge step to safety this past weekend thanks to on-loan winger Kenedy who scored a brace against Southampton. The rest of the results at the bottom went for the Magpies and optimism about their chances increased significantly.
There will be nobody on Tyneside getting too complacent, not least Rafael Benitez, but the manager could be forgiven for having one eye on the summer.
It promises to be a crucial one for the club as it remains on the market, while there will be more rumours about the future of Benitez. There has been friction between the board and the manager in recent windows, which will come into focus again this summer.
Regardless of his desire to sell the club, Mike Ashley needs to appreciate the worth of his manager and make sure that his biggest asset remains at St James’ Park.
A quick way to do that this summer will be to sign Kenedy on a permanent deal from Chelsea. The Mirror report that the winger will be available for £15 million and that would be a great price for a player with his quality. He has immediately improved Newcastle since joining and provided some much-needed quality in the final third.
During his first six matches, he has scored twice and got one assist. Considering Newcastle’s struggles in the final third throughout this season, Kenedy has provided end product that had previously been lacking. It is too soon to judge him fully, but he has come in and made an impact straight away in a team fighting relegation. That shows both talent and a good mentality.
The Magpies have been a working progress under Benitez this season. Their underlying numbers are good, but they have lacked the quality to produce the results required. Since Kenedy arrived, they have lost only one of their six Premier League matches and that came against an in-form Liverpool team.
As stated above, it is early days for the Brazilian at St James’ Park, but his attacking contributions have been impressive. The 22-year-old is currently averaging 1.02 chances created and 2.86 attempted shots per ninety minutes.
He hasn’t been perfect, with his decision making being questionable at times. However, he has stood out as one of the more talented players in the team and for that reason, he needs to be signed on a permanent deal.
Throughout his tenure as Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley has been reluctant to spend big money and his penny pinching has only got worse as his desire to sell has increased. Since promotion to the Premier League, the club has spent just under £40 million, which isn’t enough to compete with the majority of clubs in the top-flight.
That needs to change as he needs to make sure Benitez doesn’t leave the club this summer, as it would derail any potential takeover. It is clear that the Newcastle manager would like to bring Kenedy to the club on a permanent basis and if Ashley can make that happen, it will go a long way to protecting his investment.
At the age of 22, there is potential for a big profit in the future, as Kenedy would surely develop on Tyneside under Benitez. The money in the modern game has become silly, but at £15 million, Kenedy would represent value.
He has already emerged as a key player for Newcastle and his importance will increase with game-time. This is a deal that Mike Ashley simply must make happen.
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