Hatem Ben Arfa’s Nice career took time to get started, but once it did, the wait proved worthwhile…
After difficult spells at Newcastle and Hull, the France winger was prevented from playing during his first six months at Nice after breaching FIFA regulations. This season, Ben Arfa has been at his brilliant best, scoring 17 times – including several goal of the season contenders.
With Ben Arfa pulling the strings, Nice have been a joy to watch.
“I’m playing in an environment that is allowing me to express myself so I’m very happy here in Nice,” Ben Arfa told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. “I’m enjoying it here thanks to my team-mates, the coach, the president. I owe this good season to the team, to the squad. I think that in five or six years, people will look back and say ‘that was a very good Nice side’. There are lots of good players, and an extraordinary coach. Nice are flourishing this season because they have all the right ingredients, and I’m one of those ingredients.”
The France international explained that the connection with his new team began when he met with Nice coach Claude Puel before signing on with Les Aiglons.
‘The move I really needed’
“I felt that the club really wanted me to come here, I was part of their plans. Then I chatted to the coach, and I was surprised by him. He was different from what I had expected – he came across very sincere and very caring. I liked the way the club wanted to incorporate me in to the project; this was the move I really needed at this stage in my career.”
The relationship has helped Ben Arfa reach a positive frame of mind, and this has translated into the spectacular performances that helped the player to win a France recall and a place on the reserve list for Euro 2016.
“My relationship with Claude Puel is like that of a father and son, in the sense that he wants to accompany me and wants me to progress. And it works because his message seems to be getting through, I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to meet Claude Puel, he has helped my career get back on the right track so I’m really grateful to have met him,” said the silky skilled forward. “Sometimes I go home and I think to myself that I have been understood at last… just because of a little detail, it’s hard to explain. That means a lot. I need a certain freedom on the pitch, and I feel that he understood that. So he knows the positives and negatives I bring, but I think this season has been mostly positive.”
Feted as France’s next superstar at a young age, Ben Arfa has had a troubled career and struggled to meet expectations. But at 29, the skillful left-footer appears finally to have found the inner peace he needs to express his enormous talent to the full.
“I understand myself better, I know myself better, I’m more comfortable with myself and with others,” he offered. “I have always been the one and only person responsible for my decisions, my choices. My career path has been a rollercoaster ride, and I have struggled to find stability. It has been hard. Big things were expected of me very young and I didn’t live up to them! Today I’m getting back to a good level and there is more to come.”