His first league appearance of the season was quite a sight. He casually sauntered towards the touchline, with an effortless stride. The crowd rose to their feet, the applause began before the 4th official had even raised his electronic board. For once, it didn’t matter who was departing the pitch, it was all about the man entering onto it.
Prior to that day he had only played around half a dozen games for the club. The spectators were not appreciating those fleeting moments from a year ago however, they were applauding his ability to return. This was a simple message; ‘Welcome back, we’ve missed you.’
It was a far cry from 11 months ago. October of last year, Ben Arfa was clutching an oxygen mask, a grimace etched across his face. The replays gave a definitive confirmation that he had broken his leg. The true extent of the damage, both physical and psychological was still unknown. What was abundantly clear however, Ben Arfa now faced a testing year.
Having started so well for Newcastle, it was sad to see such a bright start extinguished. In recent times, Newcastle have had somewhat of a love affair with French wingers. In the 90’s it was the flowing locks of David Ginola gliding up the left hand side, with his mercurial talent a joy to behold. Then during the tenure of Sir Bobby Robson, Laurent Robert (also signed from PSG) took the mantle of ‘exciting gallic wideman’. Neither tracked back or defended, but when they had the ball at their feet, they often had your bum hovering over your seat.
A year is a long time, but the club, and in particular the fans refused to forget Ben Arfa. Regular checkups by the owners, and an abundance of cards from fans was said to have left Ben Arfa slightly taken aback. It’s been just under three months since his return. A slightly protracted reinstating, there have been glimpses of talent, but nothing sustained.
In truth, time is what he needs, and it’s what he’ll get. A temperamental player during his time in France, you could argue Newcastle are the perfect home for such a player, having been a haven to divisive characters before.
Now wearing his preferred number 10, he’s perceived as the link man for Newcastle. Irrespective of how his career transpires from here on in, I will always be grateful that his last act for Newcastle, wasn’t that horrible wet Sunday at Eastlands.