NEWCASTLE UNITED have been staging an open training session at St James’ Park this morning- but while Alan Pardew was putting the rest of the club’s first-team squad through their paces, Hatem Ben Arfa was nowhere to be seen.
He won’t be appearing in public this evening either, having decided to cancel a planned ‘meet and greet’ session at The Back Page, a popular sporting memorabilia store in Newcastle. A statement issued a few hours ago claimed the event would have been “counterproductive”.
It probably would have been, in so much that it would at least have proved that Ben Arfa is alive and well, and not simply a figment of Newcastle supporters’ imaginations. Over the last few months, it has become increasingly hard to be sure.
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The winger’s two pre-season appearances have come in reserve games against Queen of the South and Barnsley, and he clearly does not have a future for as long as Alan Pardew is manager and Mike Ashley is in control of the boardroom. Yet he remains a firm fans’ favourite, and his name has been chanted at every first-team friendly this summer.
The whole thing is a mess, and it threatens to cast a considerable cloud over anything positive that happens at St James’ this season. For that reason, it is imperative that Newcastle do all they can to move Ben Arfa out of the club before the transfer window closes.
It is a shame to be writing that given that the 27-year-old remains one of the most talented players on the Magpies’ books, and one of the few squad members capable of changing a game in an instant.
But he is not going to do that languishing in the reserves, and his presence beyond the end of August would provide an unwanted distraction, just as it did in the latter stages of last season. Every time something went wrong, the fans would clamour for Ben Arfa and, quite understandably, his absence would dominate the media agenda.
No one would benefit from that, including Ben Arfa, whose ‘persona non grata’ status would become even more entrenched, and who would find himself even less of an attractive proposition to potential suitors.
Better surely that he is dispatched from Tyneside to play elsewhere, even if that means him playing on loan and Newcastle having to subsidise some of his wages, which are understood to be around £40,000-a-week, and which are hampering the club’s attempts to bring in other players this summer.
Sometimes, if things are not working, it is in everyone’s best interests to draw a line under things and move on. That is where we are with Ben Arfa, and while Newcastle will not want to lose a valuable asset for a price below the market rate, they cannot have it both ways.
They clearly don’t value Ben Arfa very highly, so if that’s their standpoint, they can’t realistically expect other clubs to be willing to shell out a top-dollar fee.