“He’s a person and a player I appreciate.”
Those were Claude Puel’s words when asked about the possibility of seeing Hatem Ben Arfa in a Leicester City shirt in the near future.
After all, rumours about a reunion started less than 24 hours after the Frenchman’s King Power Stadium appointment, and, on paper, there’s a lot to be excited about.
One of the most inconsistent and frustrating talents to emerge from Clairefontaine’s academy, the former France international’s career has been a series of ups and downs, with one ‘up’ in particular standing out above the rest: his season at Nice in 2015/16.
Falling out with Steve Bruce while on loan at Hull City, Ben Arfa was, a few days later, released of his contract at Newcastle, meaning teams could approach him at will.
Claude Puel decided to try and give him a chance, only to be told the forward couldn’t play for Nice that season as he had already appeared for two different teams that year.
This meant Ben Arfa had to wait until August 2015 before playing competitive football again, but it was worth it.
What was regarded as a wild gamble before the campaign started quickly became a coup as Ben Arfa helped Nice finish an unlikely fourth, scoring 17 goals and picking up six assists along the way.
Having shown the world he wasn’t done yet, a move to Paris Saint-Germain presented itself, and he greedily grabbed it.
The problem is, it hasn’t worked out.
Why? Quite a few reasons (attitude, how he was used by Unai Emery…), but the biggest of them all: he wasn’t the star of the team anymore.
During that 2015-16 season, everything Nice did went through him, and you only need to look at the results of the four games he missed that year to see how important he was.
Drawing three and losing one (to Bastia, of all teams), Nice only scored one goal over those four fixtures without their star player.
At Paris Saint-Germain, he was never going to be given the status he needed to shine, and it all fell apart.
Despite putting up reasonable statistics (four goals and seven assists in 32 appearances), Ben Arfa struggled and quickly lost Unai Emery’s trust, with many doubting the Spaniard wanted him at the club in the first place.
With the relationship between the two all but broken, many expected the now 30-year-old to leave in the summer, but that never happened as the player was determined to make it at Paris Saint-Germain this season.
However, Neymar’s and Kylian Mbappé’s arrivals quickly put an end to that, and many have since accused him of happily sitting back and cashing in his paycheque.
Having now failed to make an appearance, even on the bench, for Paris Saint-Germain this season, an exit in January is all the player should be thinking about.
This is where Leicester supposedly come in, but is it a realistic option?
Right now, not really.
The Foxes are, much to Islam Slimani’s apparent displeasure, already overloaded in the attacking department, with (if you count Ahmed Musa as a striker) six strikers on their books.
Considering Claude Puel has been playing a 4-2-3-1, that leaves two spaces available to six players if you play someone like Shinji Okazaki behind Jamie Vardy.
Where does Hatem Ben Arfa fit into all this?
In a team where Riyad Mahrez and the aforementioned Vardy are king, neither will, or should, be displaced by the Frenchman, and it would be near career suicide, so soon after his arrival, if Claude Puel brought in the Paris Saint-Germain flop in January and made him the key part of this Leicester side.
Having spent close to £55m on two forwards over the past 48 months (Islam Slimani and Kelechi Iheanacho), adding another to the mix, when neither of the two most expensive transfers in the club’s history have been worth it yet, would be a strange move.
The last thing you want to do is give yourself another problem, especially one that hasn’t played professional football since April 5th, when you are still trying to resolve issues already on your doorstep.
When the French manager signed Ben Arfa for Nice, his squad was in desperate need of an attacking fulcrum, and the gamble paid off.
Leicester City, on the other hand, have the elements at their disposal to be a successful team, and there have already been signs Craig Shakespeare was the problem, not the players, as the Foxes have picked up three wins and a draw (away at Stoke) since his departure.
Puel might very well appreciate Ben Arfa, but a gamble isn’t needed at King Power Stadium right now, because, ultimately, that’s all the Paris Saint-Germain forward is these days.
In fact, that’s what he’s been his entire career.