I was in the stadium when he did the madness.
I was in the Gallowgate End when Hatem Ben Arfa turned so sharply that Sam Ricketts did the splits completely involuntarily, then Hatem just ran really quickly in a straight line, right up the guts of the field, and toe-poked the ball past Adam Bogdan, the gingerest goalkeeper of all time.
It feels like there aren’t many ginger goalkeepers. What’s that about? One for the scientists. Anyway, I was there, and I count myself extremely lucky.
Ben Arfa did things with the ball at his feet that I’ve never seen anyone else do. He’s 5’10” but with a centre of gravity hidden deep underground, like buried treasure.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) April 9, 2019
Sometimes he’d disappear for a few months and come back visibly chunkier, but that made me love him more. I truly don’t think he would’ve had that undeniable spark if he didn’t feel like he was able to fuck off to France and just eat a shitload of croissants every so often.
He’d come back, get fit, and quite literally run circles around some of the best defenders the world had to offer until he got bored.
A year and a half ago, Ben Arfa was playing for Lille against Bordeaux in Ligue 1 when he argued with Lille’s manager Jocelyn Gourvennec.
“We don’t play like a team who is aiming for the European spots. We’re not Guingamp!” He said. Gourvennec used to manage Guingamp. That comment didn’t go down well with Gourvennec, and Hatem never played for Lille again. Time to find another club.
Actually, f*ck that. Time to play Padel every f*cking day. Football is done now. Padel is life.
Padel? It’s class. It’s like tennis but on a smaller court and you play with, well, a paddle. You can use the walls that enclose the court, as long as the ball doesn’t bounce twice, making it a more accessible version of tennis.
Less technique, more dynamism and quick changes of direction – something Ben Arfa knows all about.
I first discovered Padel when I spent a bit of time teaching English in the south of Italy.
The pandemic was raging at the time, and so it was quite difficult to socialise, but the padel courts were open and my housemate and I made friends with a couple of locals, Valentina and Massimo, with whom we played padel.
Massimo played as a right-back for local team Noci in the Italian Prima Categoria Puglia Group B, and had previously played in Italy’s Serie C. He looked like a footballer. Very handsome, with lovely hair. Great cook, very kind, smart guy. I sort of wish I was Massimo, to be honest.
He was also very good at Padel, and it is my theory that footballers make naturally good Padel players, especially footballers with the explosiveness of Ben Arfa.
As the game’s popularity begins to rise in the UK, with an official governing body now, and new courts being built all over the country, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more footballers getting involved.
Just to hammer home this point and because I will take any excuse to mention him, here is a clip of Zinedine Zidane being good at Padel.
Ben Arfa has become quite clearly obsessed with the sport and has shot up the French rankings to 1,342nd (out of over 42,000).
He started the year at around 10,000th, but has played over 70 (seventy) tournaments this year – almost two per week. On his current trajectory, he might well be the French number one by March.
If Ben Arfa manages to become the best Padel player in France, just because he can, then come back to play football, we’re shutting this site down and rebranding it as a Hatem Ben Arfa fan account. You can hold us to that.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders were caught on camera having a pretty competitive-looking game of padel against Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcantara.
And a duo partnership of two of football’s greatest ever left feet – Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben – have played against Ronald de Boer and ex-pro tennis player Raemon Sluiter in the World Padel Tour.
Hear me out: we replace the pre-match build-up on TV with a televised ex-footballer Padel league.
Ben Arfa is the face of the tournament and wins it by nutmegging his opponent during the winning point, re-signs for Newcastle, is allowed to eat whatever he wants, and sees out the last of his playing days making me really, really happy.
Sound good? Join the revolution.
By Andrew Martin