Twelve months ago, the main debate about Hatem Ben Arfa was whether he should be in the Newcastle team.
Right now, the major question surrounding him is which one of his goals is short-listed for the 2012 FIFA Puskas Goal of the Year award.
Things change quickly in football, and it’s time for Newcastle United and Alan Pardew to move with the times by restoring Ben Arfa to the No. 10 role he had initially earmarked for him.
After his horrific leg-break at Man City, it took a long time for Ben Arfa to get back to full fitness and regain his brilliant form. He may have matured off the pitch since his injury, yet Ben Arfa was the complete attacking player from Day 1 at Newcastle.
Just ask Everton, as he ran the show and scored a brilliant winner at Goodison in September, 2010.
Playing right-wing, left-wing or either side of a three-man attack alongside Ba and Cisse, he’s scored seven goals since his injury. However, if freed from the shackles of a wide position and defensive responsibilities, he will wreak absolute havoc.
With the ball at his feet, he is Newcastle’s and arguably the EPL's most dangerous player, and one of the best in the world.
Comparisons to Messi are not misguided. There’s a frightening statistic—for Premier League defences at least—that at 4.9 per match Ben Arfa has successfully dribbled more than any other player in Europe’s top five Divisions. (via @NewcastleStats). More than Ballon d’Or favourites Ronaldo and Messi.
Yet while those two superstars are given a "licence to skill" and are allowed to attack teams in the final third, too often Ben Arfa is running from 40 yards or the halfway line with entire defences and teams to beat.
Which makes for great Goal of the Season contenders, yet restricts the prolific scoring which will take him and Newcastle to the Champion’s League and beyond.
He is an outrageously gifted footballer with mesmeric skills, pace and a rocket of a shot with either foot, and he can also beat men at will. Add to this vision and creativity, and getting him on the ball in-or-around the penalty box with only a man to beat will reap the ultimate dividend for Newcastle in terms of goals, assists, penalties, matches won—and ultimately trophies.
The game has changed from 4-4-2 and two power forwards like Ba and Cisse, who have had 11 clear-cut chances each in The Premier League this season. Ba has converted three, they’ve missed four each and the rest have been saved. Not a good return.
Newcastle failed to unlock the door against tomorrow’s opponents Swansea at St. James’ Park last season in a disappointing 0-0 draw. Play Ben Arfa upfront & it will be a different story.
As well as his undoubted dribbling ability, Ben Arfa is a lethal finisher who deserves a shot in the second-striking role that Messi has made his own and that another Newcastle favourite, Peter Beardsley, starred in for Newcastle, Liverpool, Everton and England in a glorious career. In a Newcastle shirt alone, Beardsley scored 111 times.
Many of them were "worldies," the type of goal only those blessed by the football gods with genuine genius can produce. Slalom dribbles, solo efforts from distance, exquisite chips, over-the-head volleys, audacious efforts from impossible angles—Beardsley had them all in his locker and more, and I expect Ben Arfa has the same.
It’s time for the club to do the math and realise that they have a like-for-like talent comparable to Messi and Beardsley on their hands, which harnessed properly can change the trajectory of Newcastle’s ailing Premier League season.
Something must be done and fast. The Cisse-Ba partnership does not work. They are too similar, make the same runs, get in each other’s way, and the Daily Mail suggests they don't get on.
Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. What is a fact is that in a 4-4-2 they are incompatible on a football pitch and were never used as a strike partnership for Senegal before they were united at Newcastle.
With Ba reluctant to play the left-sided role in the 4-3-3 system that shot Cisse to 13 goals in 14 games in the spring and a doubt over Cisse’s availability this weekend, it’s time to unleash the Hatem Bomb.
Ben Arfa has spoken about his self-belief, desire and ambition to become the world’s best player.
He is raring to go and on current evidence there’s no better time for Newcastle.