HATEM Ben Arfa’s comeback from pre-season injury gathered some pace yesterday as he returned to training with Newcastle United.
The French playmaker is still some way from making his first competitive appearance since October, but it is encouraging news nonetheless.
Much hope has been pinned on the 24-year-old (pictured right), who suffered a double leg break at Manchester City shortly after joining on loan from Marseille, perhaps unfairly so.
Ben Arfa has made only four appearances for the Magpies. One came from the bench, one was a less-than-inspiring performance at home to Stoke City, and he was only on the field at Eastlands for eight minutes before being stretchered off after a heavy challenge from Dutchman Nigel De Jong.
But an outstanding goal to cap an impressive full debut at Everton has whetted the appetite of the Newcastle fans.
It was also sufficient to persuade Newcastle to make his season-long loan permanent in January.
Newcastle had been hoping Ben Arfa would have recovered in time to play some part in the final weeks of the last campaign, but his comeback date kept being put back. Part of the reason the Magpies were so publicly optimistic was so as not to dishearten the French international, who did much of his rehabilitation work in his homeland.
He did don the black-and-white stripes again, but it was a short-lived return. He was stretchered off in his comeback game against Sporting Kansas City after a heavy knock to his left ankle 30 minutes in. The injury ended his involvement in Newcastle’s ill-fated tour of the United States of America.
With a plethora of French and French-speaking players signed this summer – partly on the back of the respect the Magpies earned across the Channel for their dignified handling of Ben Arfa’s injury – he has been earmarked for an important role in the dressing room, as well as on the pitch.
Ben Arfa did not play a full part in training yesterday. He was in to do some mobility work with United physio Derek Wright to assess his progress.
However, just the rare sight of him at the Darsley Park complex will have lifted morale at the club after a difficult few days for the Tynesiders.
They were frustrated in their attempts to sign a striker capable of wearing the iconic No 9 shirt, while they have also lost the services of talented but troublesome midfielder Joey Barton on a free transfer, without replacement.
Newcastle are wisely refusing to put a precise date on when fans can expect to see Ben Arfa play again, learning from the experiences of last term.
Meanwhile, Carlisle United are hoping to extend James Tavernier’s loan, which is due to come to an end today.
The versatile 19-year-old defender has been a regular at right-back after the Cumbrians drafted him in to cover for the injured Frank Simek.
With the American not expected back until mid-October, and Tavernier impressing in his place, Carlisle are keen to see more of Bradford-born Tavernier.
Although Newcastle blocked his involvement in last week’s League Cup defeat at Aldershot – an encouraging sign for him that he figures in manager Alan Pardew’s thinking – Newcastle may still be open to the idea.
The United manager spoke at the end of last season of his desire for some of his younger fringe players to go out and gain experience in the lower leagues.
And Carlisle have built a good reputation for polishing Premier League youngsters under manager Greg Abbott.
Michael Richardson has returned from a loan spell at Carlisle’s League One rivals Leyton Orient.
The 19-year-old striker started twice and made two more appearances from the bench.
He scored once for the Os, who are yet to win this season.
Phil Dowd has been confirmed as the referee for Monday’s trip to Queens Park Rangers, when Barton is expected to be one of many Hoops debutants after a busy finish to the transfer window in west London.