During the 2014-15 football campaign in Western Europe, Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa became akin to an outcast as English team Newcastle considered him surplus to requirements with Hull city deciding to sign him on a loan deal, only to realise that he was not performing as expected. The ex-Marseille forward was then offered to OGC Nice but on signing for the Cote d’Azur club, rules dictated that he could not play for three teams during one season. With Newcastle and Hull declining his services thereafter, Ben Arfa was unable to play for the remainder of the season at Nice and it was thought that his talent for playing football would never again materialise. How times can change.
Hull decided that Ben Arfa was no longer suitable for their style of play after it was alleged that their goalkeeper ran further than the Frenchman during the first 30 minutes of a game at Old Trafford in Manchester. Ben Arfa’s ability to play football had never been questioned but his attitude and work-rate was often criticised by team managers.
Nice manager Claude Puel thought differently as he sought to inject some flair into his struggling team, although just two defeats from the final eight games of the 2014-15 Ligue 1 campaign avoided the embarrassment of relegation into the second tier of French football.
With Ben Arfa regaining some fitness ahead of the current campaign and striker Valere Germain signed on loan from Monaco, there was some optimism for a better season at Nice. However, just one victory from the first five matches suggested otherwise especially when Monaco won the opening game at the Allianz Riviera Stadium and scored one goal with the aid of a misplaced Ben Arfa pass.
Thereafter, there has been a transformation in the form of both Ben Arfa and Nice. Although one game against Nantes was abandoned due to a torrential rainstorm, Puel’s team have won four successive matches via 3-1, 6-1, 4-1 and 4-1 scorelines. Ben Arfa has been granted the opportunity to play with more freedom on the pitch and has responded with several quality individual goals and a few assists. He is now joint leading striker in Ligue 1 with seven goals and Nice are now becoming a team to fear having climbed to fifth in the league table despite playing one game less than their immediate challengers.
A game at basement team Gazalec Ajaccio is scheduled for this weekend for a currently rampant Nice team, and further goals are likely to be scored. However, it does appear that the faith in Hatem Ben Arfa shown by Claude Puel may yet reap its rewards, and although a recall to the French national squad is unlikely given his fractious relationship with head coach Didier Deschamps, Nice could benefit from a rejuvenated Ben Arfa with a strong performance in both league and cup in France