HATEM Ben Arfa has been described as Newcastle United's â€˜Heineken man' ahead of his long-awaited return to action tonight, although Alan Pardew is keen to avoid relying on him too soon.
Ben Arfa was Pardew's first permanent signing when his season-long loan from Marseille was made a full-time switch in January, but injury has prevented the Newcastle boss from using him in the nine
But the 24-year-old, who suffered an ankle problem on the pre-season tour of the United States after recovering from a double leg break suffered at Manchester City last October, is expected to
start in tonight's Carling Cup third round tie at Nottingham Forest.
It will be the first time Ben Arfa has played competitively in almost a year, with the one year anniversary of Nigel De Jong's horrific tackle on the Frenchman at Eastlands falling on October 3.
Much has happened since, with the man who signed him, Chris Hughton, being replaced by Pardew and he has never been able to call on him to play.
The Newcastle boss, however, had seen enough on the training ground to commit £5m to his signature even though he was sidelined with his broken leg - and now he is even more satisfied the decision
was the right one.
"When I see him I know he's a player that can reach heights that other players can't reach, that Heineken player if you like," said Pardew. "He's a Newcastle type player, the type that fans love up
here and I felt it was important we secured him, which we have, but unfortunately we haven't seen him.
"It's just a point of getting him right, there's no doubt about his craft which is exceptional. He needs to fit into the workrate of the side and all that we do because we're not that good that we
can carry a player. But in pre-season his work-rate was tremendous.
"What I have seen in training are moments that no-one else can produce here. A pass or a shot out of the blue that takes you by surprise and that's nice to have on your team."
Ben Arfa, who cost Marseille almost £10m when he left Lyon three years ago, has enormous potential, but has an explosive character that has previously caused problems at his former clubs.
Pardew accepts he is likely to have run-ins with the France international. The first of which could arrive this Saturday when he could be held back from making a second appearance inside five days
"He's been out so long so the beauty is that I don't have to rush him," said the Newcastle boss. "Last year when we lost Andy Carroll I was really
desperate for him at times, if I'm honest.
"This year I feel that the results and performances mean we don't have to rush him. This is a bit early for him this game but he needs a game. I don't expect him to be at his full force on Tuesday.
"He's a character. He's not going to be smooth running. I won't say he's high maintenance but he's not low maintenance either. We're going to have our moments with him and I'm sure he's going to
fall out with me and my staff and my players. Along that line we're hoping to get some great performances and a lot of goals from him."
With Pardew hinting that Ben Arfa will start, he is likely to be afforded the supply striker role which Demba Ba occupied at Aston Villa on Saturday. Ba will not figure tonight, with Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands hope for the nod ahead of in-form Leon Best.
Alan Smith has a hamstring problem and Dan Gosling must shrug off a slight groin problem if he is to start, but there will be a debut for goalkeeper Rob
Elliot will replace first choice Tim Krul between the posts; a further indication that Steve Harper's days on Tyneside are numbered.
"It's very important, I've spoken to Harper because he wanted to play. I said to him on this occasion the guy's come into the club and it's important to get a game under your belt," said Pardew,
who outlined a desire to lead Newcastle to a first trophy success under his management as soon as possible.
"When you come in behind two great keepers like we've got here he's got a danger of sitting on the sidelines and people then start asking him when he's going to get his debut and I don't like that.
He's a good goalkeeper and he'll play. He deserves recognition in his own right."
Newcastle (probable): Elliot; Simpson, S Taylor, Perch, Ferguson; Marveaux, Guthrie, Gosling, Abeid; Ben Arfa, Ameobi.