Crane your neck far around the door at Newcastle’s The Back Page book and sports memorabilia shop on St Andrews Street and you can see the shadow of the Gallowgate End at St James’ Park.
That is now the outsider’s view of life at Newcastle United for Hatem Ben Arfa. From first thing this morning the stadium will open its door to supporters for an open day. A first-team training session will be held and everyone is welcome. Except Ben Arfa.
This morning, fans will watch the seven new signings of a busy summer arrive at the club. This evening, Ben Arfa will stage a meet and greet (not a signing session) at The Back Page for supporters who do not understand why it has come to this, for such a truly gifted footballer.
Last week his No 10 shirt went to the new Dutch signing Siem de Jong. Ben Arfa has been given 26, though it seems improbable he will wear it, certainly for as long as Alan Pardew is in charge. We are past battle lines being drawn between the pair. Galatasaray have shown an interest, but until there is a development the 27-year-old must train with juniors and run down the final 12 months of a contract that was signed when Ben Arfa had broken his leg in two places, such was the desire to keep him at the club.
How times have changed.
The then manager Chris Hughton and the then managing director Derek Llambias drove from Newcastle to Manchester as Ben Arfa lay in hospital after a tackle from Nigel de Jong, and assured him his loan deal from Marseille would be made permanent. That was in 2010.
Since then have come moments of outrageous talent. His goals against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League were breathtaking. His Blackburn strike, a mesmeric dribble past four players, was the only one from an England-based player nominated in the top 10 goals of Fifa’s Puskas Award for the most beautiful goal of 2012.
After the Bolton goal, for which he dribbled from his own half, Pardew spoke of an “unbelievable talent” of “gold dust” and “magic”. The spell, however, has gone. Pardew no longer wishes to manage the player. The end came after a 4-0 defeat at home to Manchester United, where the forward had been introduced as a 61st-minute substitute.
Ben Arfa responded when the whole team was asked to give their opinions after a third successive defeat without scoring. He said the team was too direct. There was a row with Pardew and a confrontation which ended with Shola Ameobi removing Ben Arfa from the dressing room.
Pardew has done that with less force but far greater brutality this summer. The first-team squad is quite simply out of bounds.
At six o’clock tonight, Ben Arfa will feel the love once more from supporters as keen as any to embrace those with precocious talent. It will, however, be in the shadows, and that is a huge shame.Reuse content