AS Hatem Ben Arfa kicks his heels as the season draws to a close, he continues to cast a shadow over Hull City’s season.
Or, at least he does for James Chester, who admits that the enigmatic but temperamental former French international could have played an important part in the Tigers’ push for survival.
“He’d leave you wanting to bang your head against the wall,” is the 26-year-old’s blunt assessment of a player who left the KC Stadium in December and has not played football since.
Ben Arfa joined City on the final day of the summer transfer window.
A mad, panicked rush saw the midfielder leave Newcastle just a couple of hours before the deadline, get lost en route and be forced to take a detour via York where he had to beg a hotel night manager to use a fax machine.
Hull also had to secure a two-hour extension to get the season-long loan deal through only for Ben Arfa to make a nonsense of not only all that effort but also reputed wages of £200,000 per month with a less than committed attitude.
Just nine appearances were made by Ben Arfa, the last coming at Old Trafford on November 29 when he gave the impression of being so uninterested in proceedings that Steve Bruce’s patience snapped before half-time and the loanee was duly substituted.
Ben Arfa was never seen again in a Tigers shirt, Bruce’s response to a post-match enquiry in December as to his whereabouts being a blunt: “He could be in Paris, I don’t know.”
A parting of the ways followed within days and Ben Arfa’s hopes of joining French club Nice in January collapsed due to FIFA’s three-club rule, the French Football Federation classing an appearance for Newcastle’s Under-21s as a competitive fixture. A subsequent attempt to join New York City also stalled to leave Ben Arfa frozen out of football as Hull fight for their lives in the Premier League.
“The gaffer tried to improve the squad (last summer) with experience and ability,” said Chester when asked about why this season has not panned out as hoped at the KC.
“But he has been quite unlucky with the signings. Robert Snodgrass got injured in the first game of the season, Mo Diame started like a house on fire but he has been out for an awful long time and I think maybe the most disappointing thing was Ben Arfa.
“He showed an awful lot of ability in training but you just wanted to bang your head against a wall. The ability he showed in training is the ability that only certain players have.
“Ben Arfa could turn a game on its head and get you a goal from nothing. That signing, you could see why the gaffer brought him here.
“I am not sure his attitude was to the level of everyone else, so that was frustrating because he would have been the player that if you were struggling to get the goals, he could have got them against Burnley.
“He could have used a bit of magic and scored us a goal but you just wanted to bang your head against a wall.
“It is the least you expect, for someone to run around, and the most frustrating thing for us was that you could see the ability that he had. For him to not really want to use it to his full potential – and he is better than many of our players here – was frustrating.”
Hull, as they have done in every away game since losing 3-0 to Manchester United almost six months ago, travel to White Hart Lane today without Ben Arfa.
The Tigers are also – if the pundits and bookmakers are to be believed – heading south with little or no chance of getting out of trouble.
Spurs may be ending the season on a flat note, last weekend’s loss at Stoke City meaning Mauricio Pochettino’s men have won just once in six games. But City remain odds-on to go down.
Chester, though, insists all is not lost and that the recent wins over Crystal Palace and Liverpool prove that Bruce’s men can still get out of trouble.
“I think those performances showed that we are more than good enough to play in this League,” he added. “But we just haven’t been consistent enough. The performance against Burnley was disappointing and I think we froze under the pressure of the situation that we were in.
“Personally, it was probably one of the worst performances I have had in a Hull shirt for a long time. Personally and collectively, it has been a difficult game to get over.
“To get into this situation after the performances against Palace and Liverpool and for it to be out of our hands is disappointing. I think we feared the challenge of the Burnley game.
“Hopefully, we can play with a little bit less fear against Tottenham and Manchester United, and get the points that we need.”
Relegation would hit City hard, not just in terms of prestige but also financially.
The players, too, will suffer with Bruce revealing a few weeks ago that every member of his squad had a relegation clause inserted in their contract that could see up to a 50 per cent cut in wages.
Chester added: “Financially, there is implications but my salary in a Championship club would be more than what the average man would earn. So, it is not something that bothers me particularly. It is the fear of failing, of always having a relegation to your name.
“This is my job and this is what I want to do. It’s the fear of failing that is driving me on to stay in this competition.
“I got to the Premier League by getting promoted with this club and I know how difficult that was. If I can help it, it is not a situation that I want to go through again.”