It was three years ago that Hatem Ben Arfa, the supremely talented and infamously knuckleheaded French attacker, was in the midst of a career resurrection. Since then, Ben Arfa’s seen his career buried once again by the shitheadedness that has all too often overshadowed his immense gifts. And yet, like a zombie too lazy to escape the humans’ attacks on the graveyard but too savvy to let anyone shoot him in the head, this self-destructively iconoclastic genius has clawed his way out of his sporting grave and is once again wreaking havoc on the pitch.
Back in 2015 during his first career resuscitation act, after a handful of frustrating and nomadic and only occasionally brilliant years in England, Ben Arfa had returned to France with Nice. Finally, it appeared that he would make good on the gobs of skill he has always possessed even though more often than not he concealed them under a mountain of ego and ill-discipline. At Nice, after spending the second half of the previous season unemployed because he’d decided to quit on Hull City in the middle of the year just because he felt like it, he had the best season of his career, appearing in a career-high 34 league matches and scoring a career-high 17 goals. So consistently wonderful was Ben Arfa’s play that some of the biggest clubs in the world were lining up for his services the next summer. Eventually, Ben Arfa decided to stay home in France and signed with Ligue 1 giants, Paris Saint-Germain.
What should’ve been Ben Arfa’s dream move quickly became a nightmare, principally of his own creation. (Though would that we all were so well paid for our self-inflicted nightmares.) Ben Arfa played a decent amount in his first season at PSG, though only five of his 23 league appearances were starts. He clearly had failed to earn the trust of then-manager Unai Emery, which became head-smackingly obvious when he didn’t play a single minute for the team in his second season. Toward the end of that season, after Ben Arfa announced in April that he would be leaving the club at the end of the year, the magazine France Football published a deliciously sordid exposé of the antics that earned Ben Arfa his permanent seat in the stands. Some choice tidbits:
So there Ben Arfa found himself this summer, once again unemployed, once again because he’d gleefully and completely conspicuously torched the bridge that had carried him to his previous job. After a long search, Ben Arfa chose Ligue 1 outfit Rennes as the site of what would hopefully be his second successful attempt to restore his reputation.
While it’s still early, Rennes’s bet on Ben Arfa looks like it’s paying off handsomely. Just look at this brief clip of the newly focused Ben Arfa ruining Nantes left and right on Tuesday in a cup match:
Ben Arfa saved probably his best highlight of the season for a match against the club where he first made his name, Lyon, with this stunning goal from long distance:
At this point in his career, it’s impossible to argue that Ben Arfa’s return to and thriving in the world of the living is anything other than temporary. Whether his eventual downfall will be on account of him emasculating the Rennes manager in front of the whole team and getting himself exiled, or if he’ll put together such a great season with Rennes that he’ll once again earn a big move to a team that will only give him occasional minutes as a super-sub, or if the 31-year-old’s talents will finally betray him with age, no one should believe that the Ben Arfa we’re seeing today will last much longer than a year or two. That is maybe a sad statement about the impossibility of deep, personal change and the ravaging effects of time, but it should also remind you to make sure you enjoy this scintillating version of Ben Arfa for as long as it lasts. Because God knows Ben Arfa is.