CONSIDERING the mad, panicked rush that was Hatem Ben Arfa’s deadline day transfer to Hull City, it was perhaps for the best that the international break came along straight afterwards.
Certainly, the 27-year-old’s nerves had been pushed to the limit by a saga that saw him leave Newcastle just a couple of hours before the window was due to slam shut, get lost on the way, be forced to take a detour via York and plead for the help of a hotel night manager before then carrying on to the East Riding to, finally, become a Tigers player.
It was enough to leave any man drained, never mind a professional athlete who had spent the previous few weeks training with the reserves and juniors at Newcastle United.
Now, though, almost three weeks on from that crazy dash across country, Ben Arfa – who joined City on a season-long loan deal – is a picture of contentment once again.
“I am very happy to be at Hull,” said Ben Arfa when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s clash with Newcastle, a fixture he will attend despite being unable to play under the terms of his loan deal.
“I have made my debut (against West Ham last Monday) and training has gone very well. My fitness was one of the first things I spoke to Steve Bruce about when I signed and I have a programme. It is helping me improve.
“There is also a very good atmosphere in this football club. We feel like a family. And the spirit is good, like the staff and the players are all together. That is good for the season.
“The staff talk a lot with the players. They laugh and enjoy being with us. It means every morning I enjoy coming into the training ground.”
Laughter is one thing Ben Arfa had not done a lot of in his final few months at St James’ Park.
After announcing his arrival in the Premier League with a stunning goal on his full debut at Everton in 2011, the French international quickly became a crowd favourite at St James’ Park.
Gradually, however, he seemed to fall out of favour with manager Alan Pardew and last season brought just 13 starts. This summer was even worse, Ben Arfa being banished from training with the rest of the first-team.
A move to Besiktas in Turkey was mooted, along with one to the Championship and Birmingham City. Neither, though, appealed so when Steve Bruce made his move on September 1, the City manager’s timing was spot-on – if a little late in terms of getting a deal done.
“We didn’t have a lot of time and I got lost on the way to sign,” recalls Ben Arfa of the final day drama in the transfer window. “But I was told if I signed a piece of paper before 11pm, that would get us two hours’ more.
“I had to get to a hotel where I could get the fax and sign it. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to sign.
“I can’t remember the hotel’s name but it was next to the train station in York. They didn’t know who I was. I was panicking a bit. In my mind, I had already signed for Hull.
“Because my English isn’t brilliant, the manager (Bruce) was on the telephone so I handed it to the man at the hotel.
“He couldn’t believe Steve Bruce was on the telephone. He helped us a lot. Hull sent something to the hotel, I signed it and then the hotel sent it back to Hull. From there, I went to Hull to sign the contract.”
Shortly before the extended 1am deadline, Ben Arfa was finally able to put pen to paper. He then embraced Bruce in the office at Hull’s Cottingham training ground, both men hugely relieved that the deal was done.
The reaction on Tyneside, however, was very different. Supporters already unhappy with Pardew’s tenure as manager saw letting one of the club’s more talented players leave as another mistake by the Toon hierarchy.
For Ben Arfa, though, the move meant a chance to finally get his career back on track after a couple of frustrating years.
“It is very nice of Steve Bruce to bring me to Hull,” he said. “It is very important when a manager wants you. It was good to hear that he wanted to sign me.
“Being at Newcastle was hard because I was training with the reserves. When I know the manager wants me, that is the most important thing. It is a good thing for me. I hope we can now do a good job together.”
Ben Arfa showed enough in his 11-minute cameo from the bench against the Hammers to suggest he is going to be an excellent addition.
Along with his considerable array of skills, the former Lyon and Marseille man also wants to be a big team player – as proved by his attendance today, even though he can’t play.
“I will go to the game at Newcastle, of course I will,” he said. “But I will have to remember to turn left coming out of the tunnel and not right.
“To go back to St James’ Park against Newcastle will be very strange. But that is life. I enjoyed myself in Newcastle and going to the left (out of the tunnel) will be strange.
“Sometimes, in my room I remember how excited I was to play at St James’ Park in front of that crowd. But that is life sometimes, you have to leave and change club. Football is like that.
“Going back to St James’ Park, I will be emotional. Of course, 1,000 per cent. Now, though, that story is finished. I have a new story, I am at Hull and very happy to be at Hull.
“I won’t be able to play (today) but I will be there supporting my team and hoping we can get a result for Hull.
“I can’t help my team on the field because I can’t play. But the most important thing will be getting the three points for Hull City.”