In the 2007/08 season, two young players broke through in the first-team squad in the perennial French champions Olympique Lyonnais.
The other was a guy who Benzema himself stated is one of the few players around who has talent on the degree of Lionel Messi. But unlike the Argentine, or really Benzema himself, the gift that Hatem Ben Arfa showed has largely gone unfulfilled and his surprise short-term move to Real Valladolid this week is largely being seen as a final chance in one of Europe’s big leagues.
A training ground scuffle with Sebastian Squillaci led to his death from Lyon in 2008 and battle with managers Eric Gerets and Didier Deschamps punctuated his tumultuous spell at Marseille.
Between 2010 and 2014 that he was a fan-favourite at Newcastle despite being plagued by injuries but even there it eventually turned sour. He was shipped out on a season-long loan to Hull City which was terminated early and left in limbo.
A return to France proved to be what Ben Arfa needed and he produced one of the best seasons of his career in 2015/16 at Nice. This earned him a move to PSG but after a promising start, he slipped out of the picture and didn’t create a single aggressive appearance during the 2017/18 season. A move to Rennes attracted a French Cup triumph but he left last summer and was from the match until his move to Valladolid was finalised this week.
Valladolid are a solid team but one desperately crying out for a spark of invention. With a little more guile they might have stolen a stage or even all three against a Madrid side who rode their luck a little.
That’s where Ben Arfa can make a real difference. At his best, he can create and score himself. He can select passes that no one else can make a chance out of nothing. The fans are going to love watching him and if he hit the ground running there’ll be plenty of his number 3 shirts offered in the club shop.
However, the baggage the former France international has gathered throughout his career will never be far away. Can manager Sergio González successfully incorporate such a maverick into his well-drilled unit? A local newspaper columnist reporting on the registering described him as”a participant in love with the football of Cruyff but allergic to coaches”.
Things may be different due to the man who played a vital part in bringing him to Pucela, the club President Ronaldo. Ben Arfa says that it was a personal call from the Brazilian legend which convinced him to make the move and the notion of playing for somebody who he grew up idolising be the motivation he needs.
Whatever happens, it’s sure to be an interesting six months at the Estadio José Zorilla.