FRIDAY FEATURE: Is Hatem Ben Arfa really worth the hassle for Nice?

It is difficult to give up on maverick footballers with personality issues. They show you a little bit of class every so often to remind you that they can become a fantastic player, yet more often than not they infuriate with their egos or attitude that hinder them from becoming the potentially world class talent that they could be. There have been countless times where players have been given chance after chance and Hatem Ben Arfa is no different. While his move to OGC Nice waiting in the wings somewhat impending a FIFA decision regarding his eligibility after supposedly having already played for two teams this season, the questions is, do Nice really need to deal with all this hassle?Les Aiglons’s performances this campaign has been pretty similar to the last, they have been middling at the heart of the table but, compared with the previous season, Claude Puel’s boys have been able to pull off the occasional blockbuster result. That’s emphasised by their 7-2 win at Guingamp in October but other than that they have been largely mediocre, getting results against the smaller sides yet not getting anything against teams of real quality, bar a gutsy victory over a faltering Lille side.

However, they have picked up of late having lost just once in their last five games, winning three that includes a 2-1 victory away at Bordeaux that might have had come about somewhat fortunately, but was still was a superb result. They haven’t exactly struggled to score goals or create opportunities, they are joint-sixth with 26 goals in Ligue 1, but that’s hiding the fact that they tend to score goals in bunches. They failed to score in seven games this season and whilst they have managed to find the net in enough matches, they are conceding in silly, naïve moments and situations. That often causes them to lose by the odd goal and steering this young side to focusing better over the course of 90 minutes would certainly be a better use of Nice’s resources than signing another creative midfielder.

Arguably, the creative midfielder role is the position in Puel’s squad, which needs the least bolstering. Nice boast a number of attacking midfielders that are able to play either behind the striker, out wide or even in the midfield two. Eric Bautheac, Valentin Eysseric, Carlos Eduardo, Alexy Bosetti and Alassane Plea all have the ability and have shown that they can all score, with Eduardo leading the way with seven, and assist, with Bautheac heading that list with four.

With that in mind, why would you try to sign Hatem Ben Arfa? For starters, it is a big statement move for Nice. Signing a player with a widely recognised name gets them into a position where they might be potentially able to attract other players that would push the clubs reputation and quality of the squad forward, in a sort of snowball effect. They have a new stadium, a positive manager that helped Ben Arfa get through the door (along with former Marseille club director Julien Fournier and friend Mathieu Bodmer) and an inspiring signing like Hatem Ben Arfa might be the perfect injection that could be beneficial for Les Aiglons at this juncture.

The 27-year-old also seemed very keen on the move, partly because it enables him to return to France but also possibly because it could be a good platform to rebuild his faltering career. He came over a little keen when talking to L’Équipe, saying: “Even if Real Madrid had called at that moment, my mind was made up” and whilst no one in the world can believe him, it at least shows his commitment to the club when and if he is cleared to play.

The real issue is what Ben Arfa can bring to the club at this moment in time. Whilst he showed moments of brilliance during his time in the Premier League, he has done nothing of note recently other than upset managers with his attitude and he has been performing below his level for arguably over 18 months now. In eight appearances this season, he has failed score or create an assist and never really convinced Hull manager Steve Bruce to play him for a club that remains desperate for goals. If many thought the deadline day loan deal that Hull had pioneered was to enable them to build on last season’s success, then they were proved categorically wrong.

If you elongate the statistics, they do not make for any prettier reading, at least in the last two years. He has scored seven goals and five assists in 36 games with an average pass accuracy of 83% over the last three seasons and whilst that might seem an attractive prospect for certain clubs, those statistics are not what you might expect from someone who can perform at the level that Ben Arfa can. Some have been tricked by his flashes of genius, such as his goal against Blackburn back in January 2012; into thinking that despite Ben Arfa’s inconsistency, any team would be weaker without him in the squad. A claim that appears further and further away from the stark reality.

In the end, Nice see this as a particularly low-risk, high-reward kind of move. If it goes well, they could get a highly-motivated player ready to resurrect his career by performing at a high level for a club that could still challenge for a Europa League place and they move on from there. If it doesn’t work out, they can cut their ties with Ben Arfa as early as at the end of the season for nothing, if the player continues to frustrate everyone and fails to see past his own ego.

Having said that, Ben Arfa would probably be able to get another opportunity at another club if this possible Nice adventure fails to prove mutually beneficial, the most flamboyant of players always seem to have nine lives. The difference this time around is that this might be his last opportunity to propel himself to a team playing Champions League again. Unless something dramatic changes in FIFA’s hard-line approach to implementing the two club per season policy, Ben Arfa might have to train hard until 2015/16.

N.S. with C.N.


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