HAVING compared Hatem Ben Arfa to Lionel Messi, Papiss Cissé thinks the Frenchman can make his Champions League “dream” come true.
Cissé scored twice in Sunday’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion – taking his tally to five in six Newcastle United games – but it was the playmaker who caught the eye.
Ben Arfa created both Cissé’s first-half goals and scored one himself in an outstanding individual display. It prompted the Senegal striker to support manager Alan Pardew’s view that Ben Arfa should go to this summer’s European Championships.
“Sometimes with the ball at his feet, he is like Lionel Messi,” said Cissé, whose weekend goals were his first away from St James’ Park for the club. “The ball really sticks to his feet. I really like that kind of player.
“He has a great range of skills. He is the kind of player who can make the difference and that is really good for us. He is really good to play with. Ben Arfa is a great player. On Sunday he played his match and that is why we went home with three points.”
After the game Pardew reiterated his belief that France coach Laurent Blanc should consider taking Ben Arfa to Poland and Ukraine this summer.
His reputation somewhat tainted by a series of controversies during a Ligue 1 career with Lyon and Marseille, the last of Ben Arfa’s eight caps came against Norway weeks before joining Newcastle in August 2010.
Like Pardew, Cissé thinks that ought to change. “I am certain Hatem is capable of going to the Euros because he is really talented,” he said. “He is showing it every weekend.
“He did it at Arsenal and again on Sunday. Now he has shown he is great player. If I were in the coach’s place, I would take him.”
Ben Arfa has had an inconsistent season, but is starting to show signs he is coming to grips with his right-wing role, hence the comparisons with the world’s best player. France’s first game in Euro 2012 is against England in Donetsk on June 11.
Pardew believes Newcastle’s defeat at Arsenal ended their hopes of finishing in the top four, and with Fabricio Coloccini set to miss the next two to three weeks with a hamstring injury, closing the gap has become more difficult, even with Cheick Tioté and Ryan Taylor expected to return.
With only five points separating them from a Tottenham Hotspur on the slide since Harry Redknapp emerged as favourite to manage England at Euro 2012, Cissé has not given up hope.
“My dream is to play in the Champions League,” he said. “Right now we are on the right path to do that. We have to continue like this, keep picking up victories.
“We have got Liverpool at home at the weekend. It won’t be an easy match but we are going to do everything we can to win it.”
With eight games of the season left, Newcastle are eight points ahead of seventh-placed Liverpool, and level on points with Chelsea, who are fifth. The Blues are at Aston Villa on Saturday, the Magpies host Liverpool on Sunday.
The team finishing fifth in the Premier League is guaranteed a Europa League slot. Finish sixth, and Newcastle will be relying on Liverpool to reach the FA Cup final to qualify. Newcastle’s chances have been reinvigorated by the mid-season arrival of Cissé, who has had an instant impact on English football.
“That is five goals now and I hope to score even more,” he reflected.
“I always pray to God to give me the strength to be good on the pitch and do what I have to do.
“We wanted the three points (on Sunday). The whole team played well and gave the attackers the chances to score a lot of goals.”