Hatem Ben Arfa is an interesting character to make sense of.
On one side of the coin, he is one of the top players in France and has seen a resurgence in his career since ending a disappointing stint in the Premier League. On the other hand, he has a reputation for being a difficult teammate who has clashed with players and managers alike. With a one-year deal with Nice set to end in June, is it worth the risk to bring him on board to Atlanta United FC?
After a slow start to his career, Ben Arfa has blossomed into one of his league's top scorers. In 30 Ligue 1 matches this season, he has registered 16 goals, putting him one behind Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette for second in league play. (In first: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with 32.) The goal production is a huge improvement from his time as a player with Newcastle United, where he managed to score just 14 goals in 76 appearances from 2010-14. At 29 years old, he looks to have plenty of football left in him, and if his production with Nice is any indication of what's to come, he stands to be an important talent for whoever gains his services when his contract expires this summer. Could that involve a move to MLS? New York City FC held preliminary talks with him last year, but he was unable to make the move due to FIFA's rule preventing players from appearing with three clubs in a single season. (This article explains the entire situation - which involves an appearance in Newcastle U-21 match - as well as a possible loophole that he could have taken advantage of.)
Despite Ben Arfa's potential, he has suffered from a reputation of being a difficult teammate and player. After being placed on loan by Newcastle to Hull City in late 2014, he failed to register a single goal in nine appearances. His lack of work ethic with Hull equaled him ultimately being shown the door - with his relationship with then-Newcastle manager Alan Pardew and club captain Fabricio Coloccini already gone sour - and led to him signing a contract with Nice a day after his official release from Newcastle, despite being unable to play due to FIFA regulations. (He signed another contract with Nice before the 2015-16 Ligue 1 season began.) That's far from the only incident he's been involved in: fights with teammates during training, getting into shouting matches with managers, calling out a former club after being transferred, and missing training sessions are parts of his past that he just won't be able to shake.
There's no doubt that Ben Arfa possesses the talent to become a star in his country. At the same time, with problems surrounding his work ethic, relationships with teammates and managers, and attitude sure to come up in conversation for any team looking to sign him, the question becomes whether this new, changed Ben Arfa is here to stay, or if his personal travails return.