While most of the attention right now is on players that Newcastle United might bring in between now and the end of the transfer window, we mustn’t forget about the quality players that are already at the club. Alan Pardew has plenty of those at his disposal, none more so than Hatem Ben Arfa. The mercurial Frenchman has at last managed to get a number of games under his belt for the Magpies and perhaps inevitably has been compared to a great Newcastle player of the past: Paul Gascoigne.
At his peak Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne was an absolute joy to watch. Gazza played for Newcastle between 1985 and 1988, racking up over 100 appearances and thrilling the St James’ Park crowd on many an occasion. He was the most talented English player of his generation and as a Gateshead boy, he will always be fondly remembered by the Newcastle faithful. It is almost 25 years since Paul Gascoigne pulled on a Newcastle United shirt, but does Ben Arfa have the talent to wow crowds just as much?
Alan Pardew made the comparison between Gazza and Ben Arfa when talking to the Sunday Sun. The Newcastle manager said about Hatem: “He’s certainly got undoubted ability. He’s exciting. He excites me and as a hardened football manager there’s not much that can get me out of my seat but he can”. Then came the quote that might stick with Ben Arfa: “I don’t see a problem with the physicality. Physically he’s strong enough to hold off any player. When he has the ball at his feet he can be very, very strong – like Gazza was.”
While it was something of a throwaway comment by Pardew and one he might have instantly regretted, it certainly shows how highly he regards the Frenchman. At 24 Ben Arfa is still near the start of his football career, particularly his Newcastle one, but he’s shown plenty of glimpses of what he’s capable of, from his stunning goal against Everton last season to his sensational solo effort against Blackburn in this campaign. The skill is definitely there, now Hatem has to show it with regular occurrence.
When you have players that are as talented as Hatem Ben Arfa, one of the biggest challenges managers face is to get the best out of them and not to compromise the setup of the team. That’s the hurdle that Alan Pardew has to overcome now and decide whether Hatem is disciplined enough defensively to be used in a four-man midfield. Going forward he’s certainly the most exciting player to watch that Newcastle have at their disposal, but the new Gazza? Surely he’s got a better head on his shoulders than the man dubbed to be as ‘daft as a brush’!
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