Hatem Ben ArfaIn the sometimes crazy world of professional football, French international forward Hatem Ben Arfa is currently embroiled in a protracted registration deal with OGC Nice in Ligue as he seeks a new challenge away from the English Premier League. However, his participation for Nice has been cast into doubt as FIFA rules state that a player can be registered with three and play for two different teams during a season. It begs the question as to why footballers should be treated in this way as against other professional trades where people can change employers regularly during a year.

During an injury plagued spell with Newcastle and several disagreements with management and players alike, Ben Arfa was deemed surplus to requirements at the Tyneside club. At his best, the Frenchman had displayed flashes of genius including some memorable individual goals but those moments had become something of a rarity during his brief appearances on the pitch last season.

As he waited for another team to engage his services, he played for the Newcastle under-21 team, primarily to maintain his fitness levels as has happened with many other footballers seeking a transfer elsewhere or recovering from injury. When Hull City manager Steve Bruce offered Ben Arfa a season-long deal during the early stages of the current campaign, the French forward duly accepted.

Unfortunately, Ben Arfa failed to impress at Hull especially during a game against Manchester United at Old Trafford when his work rate was questioned as Bruce replaced him after just 30 minutes of the game. He has not played for Hull City since that day and his loan deal was subsequently cancelled.

When OGC Nice subsequently invited Ben Arfa to sign for the Cote d’Azur club, it was on the understanding that he would be a free agent with no compensation or transfer deal involved. Newcastle helped in the matter by mutually agreeing to cancel his contract which would have expired at the end of the season.

However, Ben Arfa’s hopes of playing for Nice this season have now been thwarted by his apparent legal entitlement to be selected for the first team due to current FIFA regulations stipulating that a footballer can only play ‘official matches’ for two clubs during the course of a season. The Legal Affairs Committee of the LFP (French football league) will eventually decide upon Ben Arfa’s eligibility to play for Nice during the next few months but it does appear that his appearance at under-21 level for Newcastle constitutes an official match.

Although this rule does help to counteract the exploitation of short-term loan deals which sometimes hamper the progression of younger players at a football club by way of checking their promotion into the first team, this case clearly demonstrates the opposing view of preventing a footballer from plying his trade. There should be more flexibility.

It would now appear that only Ben Arfa can play for only Newcastle or Hull for the remainder of the season but as both teams are adamant in refusing to sanction this possibility, a rule change would seem the most likely and sensible conclusion. Yet, unfortunately for Hatem Ben Arfa, that may not be possible until next season.