GERARD Houllier has praised Newcastle manager Alan Pardew for transforming Hatem Ben Arfa's fortunes in the last few months.
Ben Arfa was named in France manager Laurent Blanc's provisional list of overseas-based players for Euro 2012 on Wednesday, despite failing to feature in the whole of the qualifying campaign
The 25-year-old has not been involved on the international stage since winning the last of his eight caps in August 2010, but his performances in the last two months of the season have catapulted him back into a France squad that is set to meet England in its opening game in Ukraine.
Ben Arfa's natural ability has never been in doubt, but recent weeks have seen him ally a diligent work ethic to his exemplary technique.
Houllier managed Ben Arfa during his time at Lyon, and also worked with the attacker in his role as technical director of France's Clairefontaine academy, and has been hugely impressed with Pardew's handling of a player who has previously had a tendency to frustrate.
"I have to give very big credit to Alan, because he has made a good player of Hatem," said the former Liverpool and Aston Villa boss. "The boy has matured and seems to have improved in a lot of ways since going to Newcastle.
"Hatem is not only a very skilful player, but he is also a very good team player. He is creative and he brings a spark to the team - he brings something different and something unexpected which is fantastic for Newcastle and for France, if he plays at the Euros.
"A lot of things have been said and written about Hatem, but he is a very good boy. He is a good character and a good player.
"I was impressed with Hatem when I saw him recently. He can stand the pressure now, he has grown up physically. He has two or three people on his back but he can keep them away."
Houllier was at Stamford Bridge when Newcastle played Chelsea earlier this month, working with French television, and was paying particular attention to both Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye.
The latter has been one of Newcastle's stand-out performers all season, and the £4.8m the Magpies paid to sign the 26-year-old from Lille last summer increasingly looks like one of the most astute pieces of transfer business conducted in many a year.
Cabaye's partnership with Cheik Tiote has been a key feature of Newcastle's play this term, but Houllier claims the midfielder might not have been on Tyneside had he still been in the manager's seat at Villa Park.
"Yohan would have been at Aston Villa if I had stayed there," he said. "Newcastle made a great signing there because he has settled really well into the English game.
"He has such a wide range of passing - he can pass short, he can pass long. And he can take free-kicks as well as scoring goals. He gets into the box very well."
As well as Ben Arfa and Cabaye, Newcastle also have fellow Frenchmen Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid on their books. Obertan was an influential performer in the first half of the season, while there are hopes Marveaux will be a success next term once he has fully recovered from a serious ankle injury.
The French connection is set to be strengthened this summer with Newcastle having agreed a deal to sign Reims midfielder Romain Amalfitano and set up a trial for Marseille reserve Christophe Lowinsky, and Houllier feels they are profiting from their collective knowledge of the Gallic market.
"There is a strong French influence at Newcastle and they are all very good players with good pedigree," he said. "Newcastle have always had a tradition of taking young players from France. I remember David Ginola when he came there - he gave them the same spark that Hatem does."