Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for the second coming of Hatem Ben Afra is almost upon us. When the Saints come marching in to St. James next Sunday, we too will have our own saintly presence back in our midst. After a tortuous three-month absence he will rise again, may his good works and miracles deliver us through the valley of bad form and ponderous attacking play. In the words of Wayne the Baptist: the big man is back. Amen.
Ben Arfa, Newcastle's Redeemer
Admittedly it is more than a little distasteful to be applying Christian iconography to a practicing Muslim but if anything that just goes to show the type of player he is. He transcends divides and unites those in admiration. At his best he's the sort of player whose other-worldly close control and preternatural read of the game joins all in consensus and reminds us why we all pay penance each and every week to the Premier League sacred cash cow. The league has been a poorer place without him.
Lord knows we've suffered in his absence and it'll be intriguing to see how he fits into our new look line-up although there's few who doubt that it won't be a seamless transition for the French-Tunisian genius. If anything we're more equipped to play to his strengths now than we were before his injury as the tireless running of Yoann Gouffran and the fear spread by Moussa Sissoko's presence in the middle should theoretically give him more space to work his magic.
Hatem Farewell Tour
But let this be a warning to all those reading: enjoy it while it lasts. Our flat out failure to build on last season means the odds seem slim that we're going to be able to retain his services in the summer. He's a Champions League calibre player coming to the apex of his career; abortive cup runs and mid-table mediocrity are just not written in the stars for this holiest of players. Injuries may have blighted his time on Tyneside but let's not kid ourselves: that's the only reason he's here in the first place. We stuck by him through his leg break and he's repaid us with some scintillating form and iconic moments. He doesn't owe us anything anymore.
This may sound pessimistic and I hope I'm wrong but it seems best to look at things thusly: 12 matches we've got left in the league so that's 12 matches to savour possibly the most gifted player to ever pull on a Newcastle shirt. 1080 minutes of nutmegs, Cruyff turns, dropped shoulders and liquid dribbles to drink in and treasure. If he stays, then great, we've got another season of his magic to feast on. If not take a leaf out of the Israslites' book and get ready for a journey through the barren footballing desert. For we're unlikely to see a player of his ilk again for 40 years at least.