In the recent cases of Ivan Rakitc, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, Barcelona followed players in secrecy and did their transfer business in swift order. The summer-long transfer saga of Neymar was an exhausting affair, but the level of talent may have dictated the duration of the signing. The likes of Paul Pogba would be the major signing of a transfer window, but the players that are signed for depth are usually the footballers that decide not if a club can win a trophy, but rather how many trophies a club can win in a season.
The latest name to pop up in media circles as a possible squad player for next year is Nice’s Hatem Ben Arfa. The 29-year-old creative midfielder started his career in his native France at Lyon and then Marseille before trying his hand in England. Varying success at Newcastle United under Alan Pardew and a failed loan move at Hull City with Steve Bruce put Ben Arfa’s career on hold for a few months, as he was not allowed to play for three clubs in a same calendar year.
When he was able to lace up his boots again, this time back in France in Nice, he had a renaissance of production and is playing the best football of his career. He has scored 17 goals in 32 games in Ligue 1 this season. This level of performance could be useful off the Barcelona bench, but the front office must weigh the pros and cons of signing him.
Ben Arfa’s contract is the biggest pro to facilitate the move. With his contract ending and now nearing 30 years of age, the midfielder could be signed on a free transfer that wouldn’t require the Catalans to break the bank.
Money aside, Barcelona may be motivated to bring the Frenchman to the Camp Nou due to his previous experience with a bench role and his current form as a starter. Competition, especially in the middle of the park, is at a premium at the Camp Nou. Barcelona need a player that can come into the game in the second half and make an impact. If a player isn’t comfortable with such a role, then their transfer should be in question.
Ben Arfa’s willingness to accept a role off the bench or in spot starts could be the most significant and detracting factor for him to be brought on. Between his departures from Marseille and Hull City, Ben Arfa has been heavily criticised for having an attitude that is detrimental to the team. Luis Enrique only wants to deal with players who have supreme confidence in themselves yet the selflessness necessary to put aside personal triumphs for that of the squad.
Even if Ben Arfa would be able to carve out a role that afforded him regular playing time, that would indicate that another Barcelona midfielder or winger would have less opportunities. It should be expected that Andres Iniesta and Rakitic are still the de facto starters next season, leaving Turan, Rafinha Alcantara and the versatile Sergi Roberto to fight for time that may not be there.
If the rumours of Denis Suarez returning to Catalunya from Villarreal are indeed true, the attacking midfielder position would get ever more crowded. It would appear that the 29-year-old Turan would be the odd man out, but no one would blame any of the younger choices, Sergi Samper and Munir El Haddadi included, if they got restless with a lack of playing time.
As long as Lionel Messi is scoring goals in Spain, the Barcelona brass know that Champions League and domestic success is not only possible, but expected. If they believe that Ben Arfa could put aside his past of insubordination and contribute more than some of the younger choices that Luis Enrique has at his disposal, then he should be signed due his price tag and recent form.
Oddly enough, the Copa America and the Olympics could play a factor in the decision-making if the transfer were to still be in question throughout the summer.
Rafinha will be representing Brazil in both competitions, and he was selected for the Copa America over the likes of Kaka and Oscar. Unlike Neymar, Rafinha was encouraged to play in both summer events to help him regain his form after his long injury hiatus, and how well he plays could have a substantial effect on whether or not Barcelona feel that they need another player who can deputise as an attacking midfielder or a winger.
Luis Enrique is on the lookout for that fourth attacking option up front to come off the bench and add an offensive punch when Barcelona need it. Ben Arfa has scored goals this season, but Enrique has repeatedly made it clear that players resembling Celta de Vigo’s Nolito, a true attacking forward option, are most preferable.
Barcelona should move on from Ben Arfa even if he made France’s Euros squad this summer and was offered a hefty payday outside of Catalunya.