Wonderkids of the past – Hatem Ben Arfa edition

Hatem Ben Arfa was once seen as one of the most talented prospects in French football.

He was selected for the famous Clairefontaine academy where only the young French elite play. He has gone on to represent many different clubs around the world but, some would say, not fulfil his potential. So let’s cast our minds back to the beginning and where it all started for Hatem Ben Arfa.

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Labelled a prodigy even as a teenager Hatem Ben Arfa had a lot expected of him from a very young age. In 2004 Ben Arfa signed his first professional contract for Lyon. At first, he was used mostly as a substitute coming off the bench to ease him into first team action. However that all changed in the 2007-08 season, where his dazzling performances led him to score 8 goals and claiming 5 assists in 43 games.

His impressive performances could not be ignored, as he went on to claim the Young Player of the Year award. Unfortunately, shortly after some problems started to occur for the young star, which is something that would become somewhat of a regular occurrence throughout his career.

Speculation of tension between him and a few teammates started to come out in the French media, and after he was involved in a training ground bust up with Sebastien Squillaci, Lyon decided to cash in on the French prodigy.

Marseille 2008-2010

After the 2007-08 season and a full summer of talks with a few different clubs Marseille won the race for the signature of the talented Frenchman. After joining Marseille, Ben Arfa continued to perform well on the pitch but have problems off it. Disputes with teammates continued to be an issue, as he got into intense spats with Modeste M’bami and Djibril Cisse.

Shortly after during a Ligue 1 match against Paris Saint-German Ben Arfa was instructed to warm up to come on as a substitute, but he refused to do so. He then claimed he was injured, but this was yet another terrible look for the player.

The following season the problems continued to raise, including an incident in which Ben Arfa missed training and consequently was fined €10,000. He had alluded to the fact that delays in the airport were to blame as he had gone to Tunisia on the international break to visit some family.

A few months later he then got into a heated argument with his manager Didier Deschamps. Although he apologised Ben Arfa was starting to gain a very much unwanted reputation. That negative reputation led to speculation of a possible transfer out of France.

The speculation proved to be true as Newcastle secured a deal for an undisclosed fee to bring the unpredictable Frenchman to Tyneside.

Newcastle 2010-2014

He started his time at Newcastle well enough with a goal on his full debut against Everton. Sadly only a few weeks later things were abruptly put to a stop for Ben Arfa, as he suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his left leg after a terrible tackle from Manchester City midfielder Nigel De Jong. This was Ben Afra’s first long term injury in his career, and it would not be an easy one to get over.

Ben Arfa ended up missing most of his first season with Newcastle, but after a strenuous nine months of hard work, he was back playing first team football. After a few months, Ben Arfa looked back to his regular skilful self and went on to score a phenomenal solo effort against Bolton Wanderers.

Firstly he gracefully turned away from an opposition player in his own half, drove past another one, then sprinted in-between and past two more defenders to then slot the ball coolly in the bottom left-hand corner. Newcastle manager Alan Pardew stated after the match:

You don’t see many goals like that, and I’ve been lucky enough to see two of them this year, both from the same player. It was a truly special goal.

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Unfortunately, that memorable goal was the best it would get for Ben Arfa that season. A falling out with then Newcastle manager Alan Pardew and an alarming decline in form ended with Newcastle deciding to loan the winger out to Hull City.

Hull City (loan) 2014-2015

His time at Hull was arguably the worst of his career, he only made 9 appearances in a relegation-battling Hull side. He failed to score a single goal in any of his appearances and only managed to get 1 assist. The fall from grace was astonishing, the once highly garnered Frenchman looked a shell of his former self.

All the negativity led to Ben Arfa disappearing off the pitch just as he had on it. Hull manager Steve Bruce stated that “To be honest, I don’t know if Hatem is in Paris,” responding to reports the midfielder had gone back home.

I don’t know if the report he is in France, or whatever it is, is true. I’m not sure.

His time at Hull City was so awful that they decided to cut his loan deal off, and he was sent back to Newcastle where they decided to send him over to train with their reserve team and then cancel his contract.

However, as he had already played with two different teams in a calendar year and playing for a third would be against the rules, whatever team that signed Ben Arfa would have to wait until the following season to register him as an eligible player to feature for them.

Nice 2015-2016

Ligue 1 team Nice decided to take the plunge and give him the chance to resurrect his career. Ben Afra did not take this opportunity for granted and went onto have what many say was the best season of his career, scoring 18 goals and getting 7 assists in 37 appearances for the French club in the 2015-16 campaign. His excellent play earned him a place in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year and a call up to the French national team.

It seemed that Ben Arfa had finally proved all his doubters wrong and let his God-given football talent do all the talking. His great performances did not go unnoticed by Europe’s elite, as interest was shown in him by big clubs from all over the globe. In the end, it was Paris Saint-Germain who won the race to sign the rejuvenated Frenchman.

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Paris Saint-Germain 2016-2018

While he did not play the best football of his career in Paris, he was a part of the Paris Saint-Germain team that won three French cup competitions in one season. Despite the success, his second season with the club did not go to plan at all. He failed to register a single performance for the team as the manager Unai Emery questioned his work rate and mentality.

He was sent to train with the Paris Saint-Germain reserves as his relationship with Unai Emery and the club’s hierarchy seemed to have been broken beyond repair. As Ben Arfa’s contract was heavily weighted in performance-based bonuses, the fact he did not feature at all in the first team for a whole season meant he missed out on a lot of money.

Ben Arfa and his representatives felt so aggrieved by this that they filed an €8 million lawsuit against the club. As his contract had expired with Paris Saint-Germain, Ben Arfa was free to join another team and in the end, he signed a deal with French club Stade Rennes.

Rennes 2018-2019

He had a solid season at Rennes but his time there will mostly be remembered for what happened at the end of the campaign. Ben Arfa was able to get the better of his previous team Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France final. As he calmly slotted away his penalty in a shootout win, which gave Ben Arfa a little revenge over the club who had completely frozen him out of the team just a season before.

Despite having a decent season with Rennes both he and the club decided against triggering the second year option in his contract.

Real Valladolid 2019-2020

Ben Arfa then went on to have a very unproductive spell at La Liga minnows Real Valladolid. In six months he failed to make any real impact at the club going on to make only five appearances.

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Ben Arfa career summary

So where is the once wonderkid Hatem Ben Arfa now? Well after some time out of the game on the 7th of October 2020, it was announced that Ben Arfa would be joining his sixth French club, Bordeaux.

At the age of 33, Ben Arfa’s career has had many ups and downs. From breaking onto the scene with scintillating cameos as a teenage prodigy to scoring magical goals in the Premier League for Newcastle, his disaster at Hull City that many thought he would not recover from, to proving them all wrong by having his incredible comeback season at Nice and, then the rollercoaster of a time he had at PSG.

Things have never been easy for Ben Arfa, as so much was expected from him from such a young age. On reflection, it is fair to say that Ben Arfa’s career has been one characterised by animosity, both towards managers and the organisations that employed him, and a lack of discipline which was very detrimental to his career and him completely fulfilling his potential.

Although Ben Arfa may not have hit the heights many expected him to, he is a player that true football purists all over the world will never forget.

The Author

Aaron Adade

I am a writer who is extremely passionate about all things football. Love to write opinion-based pieces on footballers of the past and present.

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