Hatem Ben Arfa was always going to be a difficult player to handle, even without the horrendous injury suffered against Manchester City. Real flair players very rarely come without baggage and after conflict with his club in France, Newcastle were able to land a player who should have been out of our reach at that time, based on talent alone.
Alan Pardew knows that if he can get Ben Arfa playing to his full ability then it would give a whole different dimension to the team.
How best to achieve that is another matter and I believe that when talking about his handling of the player, Pardew is striking the right balance.
The manager is clearly showing who is in charge but at the same time putting his arm round him to tell him what a good player he is but needs to be totally focussed and on top of his game.
Tiote looked decidedly rusty on Wednesday but if the Ivory Coaster can get back to ‘maximum power’ then it gives a lot more scope to get the best out a player like Hatem Ben Arfa.
“I know there have been suggestions, rumours, that he isn’t happy here, but it’s just not true,” Pardew said. “He’s fine, I think he knows he’s not at his best yet and the stats in the game he has played, I would expect better from him because of what a good player he is. He just needs to come up a level.
“It’s not about his relationship with the other players, you’re looking too deeply into this, he’s just a player who needs more time. I think he will find his best form before the end of the season but how quickly that is I don’t know. I’ll use him as I see fit, I didn’t use him on Saturday because I didn’t think the situation was right. It’s as simple as that.
“He’s an individual character in terms of his personality on the pitch, but in terms of that we still have situations where we need to be at full tilt to put him in the team and we’re not quite there at the moment. We were a lot better Saturday and the chances of him being involved on Wednesday against West Brom are a lot higher because of how strong we looked defensively against Swansea. We looked like our old selves.
“Of course, it didn’t help we had defensive injuries, because that has affected Hatem as well. To lose your three first choice centre-halves for the Norwich game hurts, because Hatem is the type of player you need a strong base to bring out the best in him and to protect ourselves.
“Saturday was the first time since Manchester United that we looked like a solid team. He is just lacking that bit of sharpness. I don’t think it is a case of accommodating him. We look different when he is in the side and it needs to turn into a positive for us which I think it can do.
“Fingers crossed for Hatem that happens for him and us because if we can get him back to his very best we have an exceptional player.”