Hatem Ben Arfa interview: Newcastle outcast says - 'I want to help my team and I can't. It hurts a lot'
Sidelined player tells Martin Hardy of his frustration and sadness at being an outcast, unable to help while Newcastle’s season has collapsed
Hatem Ben Arfa was sat in his front room watching the television on Monday night. By the time he turned off, Newcastle had lost another game without scoring. There had been unrest in the away end at Arsenal, banners against the manager had been unfurled. The Frenchman’s name had been chanted.
As he sits overlooking the bridges on the river Tyne in a Quayside hotel, Ben Arfa insists there is no injury and attempts to talk in a placatory manner of his relationship with Alan Pardew, the manager who told the nation before the game that the player was fit but he was picking a team to win. That is not easy.
Ben Arfa spent last week training with the reserves, he reveals. He is uncertain whether he will be asked to play against Cardiff on Saturday, or indeed occupy his usual role when he has been involved, on the substitutes’ bench. The pressure has mounted on Pardew durinThg a six-game losing run, the first time Newcastle have achieved such an unwanted record in the league since 1987. He does not need a stadium singing the name of a player sat behind him who he no longer seems to trust. For Ben Arfa, there have been eight Premier League starts in seven months. There is frustration that he has become a spectator in Newcastle’s demise.
“I feel sad and frustrated, but not angry,” he says. “I want to help my team and I can’t. It hurts a lot. I want to take the ball and give the maximum for the team. When I see we are losing games 3-0 or 4-0, it is very hard for me and I’m on the bench. If I was involved on Saturday, I think I could make a difference. I would like to try.
“Every player needs confidence,” he adds. “Every player in the world needs confidence to show their best. It is hard to come in during games and it is very hard for the player if you’re substituted at half-time, like I was against Southampton. It hurt me. I had tried, it was very hard.
“It’s not easy because when you come on and we’re 2-0 down and everybody wants you to do something great. I think it’s better if you start the game and it’s 0-0. After that you can lift your game up. When I come on with 20 minutes or 30 minutes left I give my best and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not good. But I give my best.
“Of course it hurts me [not playing] because I’m competitive. I want to play and I want to help my team. Of course, I want to play every game. That is not my decision. I train hard. I try to start but if I’m not starting, or on the bench, I have to respect the decision.
Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa is at a loss as to why Alan Pardew is not playing him (Getty)
“Yeah, it was very difficult [watching the Arsenal game]. I was at home watching on TV. It was hard because we have lost too many times, 3-0, 4-0, 3-0. It is hard when you love the supporters, it is hard to lose every time like that.”
Pardew had suggested Ben Arfa needed to earn the trust of both himself and his team-mates in explanation for his absence from a Newcastle side that have won just four of their last 19 games. There have been meetings. The player insists he does not want to leave. There was an argument after the Manchester United defeat at St James’, when Ben Arfa came on with Newcastle trailing by two goals and then lost by four.
“After the game against Manchester United we had an exchange of words, but that is it. It is common at any team where players and the manager want to win,” he adds.
“He told me I had to score more and get more assists for everybody’s confidence, the supporters, the players and him. I said OK, but I have to play. I have to have confidence to show everybody. If the manager doesn’t play me, he has his opinion. I respect that, but every player needs confidence.
“If the manager doesn’t pick me, he doesn’t pick me. I don’t have any problems with team-mates. All I know is that I want to train and I want to play and that’s it. I’m just here to play football. I can’t be the only reason for the problem. I can only do so much and I am not on the pitch.
“On the pitch I think I can offer my flair, my creativity offensively. I take initiative positively and I try every time to do something. I think I can give a lot for the club. I just want to play. I’m fit. I’m not injured. I’m ready to play.
“If the manager says to me he doesn’t believe in me for next season, I still want to stay, I want to stay but if the president [owner Mike Ashley] wants to sell me, I have to go then. I want to stay here even if the manager doesn’t believe in me, because I will show him I can play here.
“Of course my family and friends ask my why I’m not playing, but the people who are more surprised are the supporters here. They come up to me and ask me why I’m not playing and I say, ‘I don’t know.’ My dream is to be in the top four next season with Newcastle, to get into the Champions League or to win a cup. That is my dream.”
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