LONG-TERM injured Newcastle striker Hatem Ben Arfa has had his comeback put on hold.
Ben Arfa, who broke his tibia and fibula at Manchester City in October following a rash challenge by Nigel de Jong, had targeted United’s home fixture with struggling Wolves on April 2 as his return date.
The French international has spent most of his time rehabilitating in France and Tunisia but was in the stands at St James’ Park to watch his side earn a share of the spoils in an open high-tempo contest against Bolton.
The 23-year-old is keen to be in Alan Pardew’s 16 for the visit of Mick McCarthy’s side, but the United boss believes the Frenchman will not be ready.
“He has set himself a personal target, but he is still in the process of recovery,” said Pardew.
“To break both bones in his shin is tough, not just physically but mentally. He’s got a long road back. Whether he comes back into the first team at the level where we are at the moment, we’ll have to see.”
The Newcastle manager quashed the suggestion the French international’s season is over, but acknowledged his comeback will be later than planned.
“Certainly next year he will be a big player for us,” said the former West Ham, Charlton and Southampton boss. “But his recovery will take us into April, maybe May.”
Yet while Pardew admitted he was relishing the return of club’s talented midfielder-cumstriker he made it known he will not just walk straight back into the first team.
“I thought Leon Best was the best player on the pitch, so he has competition,” he said.
“I can’t just say ‘he’s great player, give him a chance’.
These players deserve to stay in the shirts.
“I’d like to see him play this year but I am going to protect him.”
The United chief believes his £5.5m acquisition from Olympique Marseille needs to get over not only the physical aspects of his injury. He also has to win an emotional and psychological battle.
“He needs to get some training under his belt and games,”
said Pardew. “I remember when Ian Wright broke his leg twice at Crystal Palace. When that first tackle happens and you come through that it gives you the confidence that you’re strong enough. Until then you have nagging doubts it isn’t as strong.