There are few things in the world Newcastle fans enjoy more than an attacking showmen, blessed with extraordinary amounts of creative talent dazzling the St James’ Park faithful.
Alan Shearer would quite rightly argue they enjoyed seeing him score a header or two more, but there is a special place for the technically gifted in black and white hearts up in the North East.
David Ginola, Laurent Robert, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Faustino Asprilla - all players who could get 50,000 plus up off their seats and enjoyed a special connection with the Geordie people.
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The most recently adopted son on Tyneside was Hatem Ben Arfa - and he was a very special case indeed.
On November 5, now Nice winger Ben Arfa was recalled to Didier Deschamps' France squad for the first time since Euro 2012 after spending the second half of last season without a club.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the 28-year-old, who was seemingly forced out of Newcastle by then manager Alan Pardew and his loan spell with Hull was scuppered after a falling out with Steve Bruce.
These aren’t the first instances of controversy during Ben Arfa’s career. He left his first club Lyon after several reports of conflict between himself and team-mate Karim Benzema and an eventual training ground bust-up with Sebastian Squillaci.
He would then depart his next club Marseille after refusing to return to the them if they did not sanction his move to Newcastle.
There’s a common denominator here, Hatem.
Still, at a time when Alan Pardew was only second to Mike Ashley as public enemy number one on Tyneside, the fans cried for Ben Arfa to return to the Newcastle fold. Pardew was stubborn, and was rumoured to be fed up with the winger's fluctuating weight and reluctance to get back and help his team defend.
The Newcastle faithful, of course, didn’t care a lick about him defending. Pardew insisted it was a bare minimum requirement to make it into his side and the Ben Arfa exodus began - one he would not come back from.
Pardew sacrificed the leading creative light in his team, and looking at Ben Arfa’s career one can comprehend the diminutive wide-man wasn’t an easy guy to work with. When he returned for pre-season training, the Frenchman was fined for being overweight and banished to the youth team squad for training.
For the record, Ben Arfa insisted he was only overweight because he had done plenty of weight training over the summer - and muscle weighs more than fat.
The stiffs was no place for a wizard like Ben Arfa, and just over 15 months later, he has clawed his way back into the France squad after scoring seven goals in 13 games for Nice, one of which he executed by skinning six men before finishing with his weaker right peg.
Newcastle fans: if you thought his goals against Bolton and Blackburn were good, watch his goal against Saint Etienne. You won’t be disappointed.
It’s hard to pin-point where Ben Arfa’s time went wrong in England. Frankly, that differs from source to source, but what has never been in question is his majestic dribbling ability and individual brilliance that endeared him to the Magpies fans in the first place.
The broken leg away at Manchester City was another hardship the 13-time French international had to bear, but falling in the line of duty for the Toon and returning his dynamic self only made the Newcastle fans even more passionate for him.
Having personally watched Ben Arfa live, I can see where a lot of his criticism comes from. For Newcastle, he hung wide-right and was only ever really interested when the ball was on its way to him.
But, invariably, when the ball did get to him, it was worth the price of the ticket and that’s what the Toon would take any day of the week over the pedestrian supporting cast Pardew ended up favouring.
It’s a shame Ben Arfa’s love affair with Newcastle came to the end that it did, but in the flair-loving corners of most Newcastle United fans' hearts, they’ll be pleased to see him flourishing back in France whilst equally wondering what could and probably should have been.
Newcastle fans: who do you blame for Ben Arfa's demise at Newcastle? Alan Pardew, or the Frenchman himself? Let us know in the comments below!
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