ALAN Pardew has hailed the return of his "Heineken" hit man Hatem Ben Arfa to English football tonight - claiming his mercurial maestro is the man in the Newcastle United squad that can hit the heights others can't reach.
After a rapid recovery from an ankle ligament injury suffered in the pre-season tour of America, Ben Arfa will be handed a cameo role in the Carling Cup third-round tie at the City Ground – bringing a year-long injury absence from competitive football to a timely end.
And Pardew, while guarded against rushing the former Marseille man back into the cut and thrust of the Premier League too soon, can’t hide his excitement at the prospect of adding some of Ben Arfa’s creative spark to a team that has enjoyed a hitherto encouraging start to the campaign.
Indeed, he borrowed the famous slogan from the Heineken beer advert of the nineties, which claimed the drink could “refresh the parts others cannot reach”, to sum up the impact he can have on Newcastle’s season.
“He brings a creative force to the team that is different to what we have and he’s different to a lot of players in the Premier League,” Pardew said.
“He’s elusive and what’s important for him is to make sure he grabs the work-rate in the team and, if he does that then he’s got a good chance of getting in this team.
“I’ve recognised enough in him to know he’s a player that can reach heights that other players can’t reach – that Heineken player if you like. He’s a Newcastle-type player the type that fans love up here and I felt it was important we secured him, which we have, but unfortunately we haven’t seen him.
“I don’t know that much about him, but what I have seen in training are moments that no one else can produce.
“A pass or a shot out of the blue that takes you by surprise and that’s nice to have on your team.”
The hype surrounding his return has been considerable – too much for some given his limited amount of time in English football.
But even those preaching caution must admit that he has the capacity to get supporters off their feet, something witnessed in his briefest of introductions to life as a Newcastle player.
He has amazed team-mates on the training ground with his ability, and there is genuine expectation which Pardew says the player will probably embrace. Luckily for the manager, he does not need to rush him back into a team that is unbeaten across all competitions in this embryonic campaign.
“He’s been out so long but the beauty is that I don’t have to rush him,” added Pardew.
“Last year when we lost Andy Carroll I was really desperate for him at times. We didn’t have any control over games and we needed that bit of quality around the box. This is a bit early for him this game but he needs a game. I don’t expect him to be at his full force on Tuesday.”
While that is the case, Pardew moved to dismiss concerns that Ben Arfa will have suffered mentally for two serious injuries since moving to England.
“The way Hatem plays he’s had people kicking him and lumping him up in the air since he was seven,” he said.
“Someone will come through the back or the side of him and you hope he’ll stand up and be fine when that happens.”
In a telling aside, Pardew also admitted that Ben Arfa might need micro-managing when he returns to regular first-team duty. His career has featured numerous bust-ups with team-mates and, while his attitude has been praised since joining Newcastle, the United boss recognises there might be “moments” with the fiery France international.
“He’s a character. He’s not going to be smooth running. I won’t say he’s high maintenance, but he’s not low maintenance either,” he said.
“We’re going to have our moments with him and I’m sure he’s going to fall out with me and my staff and my players and we will with him.
“But, along that line, we’re hoping to get some great performances and a lot of goals from him.”