Exiled Newcastle United midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa has cancelled an informal ‘meet and greet’ with fans tonight at The Backpage, a sports memorabilia store close to St James’ Park.
The playmaker, who finds himself relegated to the reserves after returning for pre-season training overweight, was thought to want to keep fans on side during an ongoing rift with manager Alan Pardew, but has now apparently decided that the event was against his better judgment.
The Backpage advertised the ‘meet and greet’ on its Facebook page just two days ago, and despite the short notice was expected to draw a large crowd on the same day that Newcastle are hosting an open training session. And it seems that this has halted the event’s go-ahead, as an official statement announced: “When the ‘meet and greet’ was organised it wasn't known that Hatem was to be excluded from the SJP session. This has unfortunately turned the whole situation into a media circus which would do neither party any good whatsoever. Hatem apologises and is saddened that he is unable to meet his fans this time.”
Ben Arfa is understood to have criticised his manager’s tactics towards the end of last season as Newcastle suffered seven defeats in their final eight games, and has not made a first team appearance since the 4-0 loss at home to Manchester United back in April.
He has subsequently been left out of all of Newcastle’s first team squads, while Pardew has already signed two ostensible replacements in Remy Cabella and Siem De Jong. The latter has even been handed Ben Arfa’s number 10 shirt.
Pardew’s seeming alacrity to part with the player he himself once compared to Lionel Messi, is a decision that has split opinion amongst fans. There are some who appreciate the manager’s tough stance on discipline, whilst others feel that more could be done to get the best of one of Newcastle’s brightest sparks.
This is not the first time Ben Arfa has gone AWOL though – in May, he offered interviews to several national newspapers without the club’s permission and was heavily fined.
Indeed, for Newcastle, the Frenchman’s situation must be seen as an irritating sub-plot in an otherwise successful summer which has seen several big name signings arrive through the door.
Ben Arfa has one year left to run on his current contract at St James’ Park and it widely believed that Newcastle would prefer to offload him during this transfer window than lose him on a free next June; but so far the club are yet to receive any formal bids.
Still, that Ben Arfa was handed the number 26 as opposed to no shirt number not all suggests that there might be some small chance of reprieve, but what The Backpage fiasco will do to this chance remains to be seen.
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