Saturday, October 9, 2010

To sign or not to sign?

Six million pounds is a lot of money to spend on a gimp. After having both tibia and fibula broken by an uncontrolled tackle by Nigel de Jong, signing Hatem Ben Arfa on a permanent basis becomes an expensive gamble for Mike Ashley, Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood. With the figure of six million pounds being thrown around as the the agreed price to complete his signing, suddenly his loan period becomes less of a “try before you buy” and more a tantalising glimpse of what his precocious talent may allow the club to accomplish.

During his glittering few games on Tyneside before the unfortunate injury, Ben Arfa looked a good investment for the 1.5 million the Magpies paid for his loan stint. He provided a touch of magic to an otherwise pedestrian and staid midfield. Had he been able to keep his head and not fall out with either manager or teammates, Newcastle taking up the first chance to sign him for good at season's end was a certainty. But with the surgery to repair the break likely to keep him out of action until the end of the season, the still-penny-saving Newcastle United finds itself in a quandary. Do they take the punt and sign the obviously talented but also-obviously erratic creator, or do they feel his injury could make the six million too high a price?

It breaks down like this: there's a significant chance that Hatem Ben Arfa will never be the same player again. He is undoubtedly a talent, but as the Magpies have discovered the hard way with Alan Smith, once a player breaks a leg there are no guarantees that he is able to repeatedly produce the athleticism needed in a competitive league like the EPL. And unfortunately Smith isn't the only example: once Eduardo suffered his horrifying injury at the hands (or feet) of Martin Taylor he was unable to keep pace with the Premier League and has since moved to Shakhtar Donetsk and a lower standard of league. Questions remain about Aaron Ramsey's restorative powers and whether his leg will be able to stand up to the punishment of another strong challenge. Antonio Valencia's Man Utd career could be finished soon after starting.

But there is a chance that HBA will be the player that many expect: a full France international, a creator of chances and goals – as borne witness to by his magical strike against Everton. He's only 23 and a potential superstar. In an age of nonsensical transfer prices, six million pounds is an absolute snip for a player – a difference maker – of that quality and promise.

With Alan Smith's lame-duck status fresh in their minds and Mike Ashley still attempting to deal the club, it's hard to believe that the bankers will look well upon an investment which isn't a sure thing. The first question is whether or not the Toon will use their first option to buy before the end of the season. If they do, they will be damned with a player who could stumble about a shell of his former self. If not, they risk the next great French player showing his wares at Juventus, Rangers or Sevilla. As simple as it sounds, they don't want that clause to expire as there's no possibility that Ben Arfa will play next season at home club Marseille because he and coach Didier Deschamps don't get along. He will be somewhere else next term, whether it be Newcastle or elsewhere.

Questions remain as to whether or not Newcastle even can survive this season. If they are relegated, this becomes a moot point as there is no chance HBA will play for a second-string team. But whatever happens, it willl be a curious few months for the Toon. Once again the star-cross'd couple of Newcastle United and the fans waltz down the road of uncertainty, hope dashed against the rocks, and of Hatem Ben Arfa.

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