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Apr 29, 2014

The poor handling of Hatem Ben Arfa


Newcastle slipped to a sixth consecutive defeat on Monday night, losing 3-0 at Arsenal, and it is clear for all to see that they are team with absolutely no creative spark. The statistics are damning: The Magpies have scored only once in this dreadful run of defeats and they haven't found the net away from St James' Park in six hours of football. They've failed to score in 13 of their last 16 games. - Ryder: Magpies go meekly in defeat - Report: Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle - Brewin: Newcastle are stuck in neutral These numbers make the absence of Hatem Ben Arfa ever since match-day 18 look absolutely ridiculous. "With the ball at his feet, he's magic. As magic as 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." The words of Alan Pardew talking about Ben Arfa two years ago after the Frenchman's brilliant display in a 2-0 win over Liverpool. Yet now it is unlikely Ben Arfa will ever play for Newcastle again, and although he has to take his fair share of responsibility for that, the way he has been handled by Pardew has been very poor. The relationship has broken down to such an extent that Ben Arfa's agent recently suggested he will invoke FIFA's 'Article 17' clause to escape from the club in the summer. This clause would allow Ben Arfa to buy himself out of the final year of his contract and leave with Newcastle receiving no transfer fee. So where did it all go wrong for Ben Arfa? His manager's inability to deal with "flair" footballers is the biggest part of the problem. Pardew is an old fashioned manager whose setup of a football team requires 'grafters' and little else. Players like Yoan Gouffran, huge heart but little creative ability, are a dream for the Newcastle manager. Pardew can barely mention Ben Arfa's name without referring to "work rate" and while it is true that all players must play their part, work rate should not be the be all and end all of every player’s selection -- if it is, you find yourself scoring only once in nine hours of football. When Ben Arfa has struck form at Newcastle, he has been a real joy to watch. Top class goals against Fulham, Bolton and Blackburn have won his side matches and Pardew was the first to take the plaudits for how he "handled" the player at those times. The flip side is the manager must also take the flack now that Ben Arfa doesn't even make the bench. Newcastle fans describe Ben Arfa as having been "Pardew'd" -- a term used to describe good players whose form and ability look to have receded badly under Pardew's management. See Moussa Sissoko for instance: When he arrived at Newcastle and played as an all-action central midfielder, he looked like he would be an immense player. A year of playing out of position as a winger and he now looks like a League Two plodder. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa came in with a huge reputation as a world class centre-half of the future -- Pardew has turned him into a reserve right back. Davide Santon is another. You can go back to West Ham and the eight-game losing streak they endured under Pardew -- Javier Mascherano (now of Barcelona fame) couldn't get a game and the Argentinian was highly critical of Pardew for playing Carlos Tevez as a left winger! Pardew has also been guilty of scape-goating Ben Arfa. He singled him out for criticism after Newcastle were thrashed 0-4 at home by Spurs, even though the Frenchman didn't take the field of play until Newcastle were already two goals behind! Rumours have been rife that Ben Arfa has become unpopular with other players because of his attitude and perhaps this is true. We can't forget that Ben Arfa went on strike from his previous club, Marseille, in order to push through his move to Newcastle and controversy has followed him throughout his career, but I firmly believe that his attitude and off-field habits would have been better if he'd been handled in the way that a player of his obvious ability should have been. I expect Ben Arfa to move on to a new club and excel, leaving Geordie fans wishing that their team was managed by someone more capable.