It’s April 1st 2012 and Newcastle United have just beaten Liverpool 2-0 at St James’ Park, a win that brings them level on points with fifth-placed Chelsea and lays the possibility of European qualification firmly on the table.
When asked about his side’s success, boss Alan Pardew seems interested in crediting one player in particular.
“With the ball at his feet, he’s magic. As magic as [Luis] Suarez or Messi at times.
“We had to work with him to understand exactly what he’s about. He has got a special talent, we know he’s special.”
Ups and downs
Hatem Ben Arfa’s career has had its fair share of ups and downs. This was undoubtedly one of the stronger peaks in a career fraught with frustration, bitter rows and the occasional sprinkle of genuine magic.
Many fans on Tyneside bought into Pardew’s assessment. Even now, the Frenchman is seen as a terrace favourite, as evidenced by the reaction to his latest insight into his time at the club, opening up old wounds that clearly run deep.
Outsiders may question the hype surrounding Ben Arfa’s abilities, although it’s worth bearing in mind that Pardew is not being the only one to have made comparisons to the world’s greatest player.
Fast forward to the present day and some stunning recent performances have seen the forward experience something of a renaissance at French club Nice.
His two goals in the 4-1 win over St Etienne offered a glimpse back to when his outspoken ambition of making the Ballon d’Or shortlist was not quite so farfetched.
His recent form has understandably forced Didier Deschamps to hand him a fresh start in international football and, in turn, an olive branch.
The pair notoriously fell out at Marseille, but Deschamps, who has one eye on the upcoming Euros, has been quick to play down any suggestions of any current ill-feeling.
“I do not have any problems with Hatem,” he said. “We disagreed on one point and I was wrong there.
“He has the ability to make the difference with one move.”
Deschamps may will be willing to forgive and forget, but some burned bridges cannot be rebuilt and the tempestuous time at Newcastle will be debated on Tyneside for years to come.
Pardew and other players in the Newcastle dressing room saw Ben Arfa as ill-disciplined, unwilling to dig his heels in when the going got tough, which it often does in that part of the world.
The disastrous spell at Hull added weight to those accusations, with an apoplectic Steve Bruce hauling the Frenchman off before half time at Old Trafford, having watched him cover less ground than goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Written by Tom Coleman
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomEcoleman
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