TEAMtalk guest Jak Penny lauds Hatem Ben Arfa's wonder-goal against Bolton, but says the Frenchman is not yet a world-class performer.
It takes a truly remarkable individual to bring about an eerie hush at the usually vociferous St James' Park. On the afternoon of Easter Monday Ben Arfa became one of the collective few to achieve such a feat. Of course the virtuoso Frenchman had already initiated euphoric applause amongst the Toon Army after his stunning solo goal handed Newcastle a 78th-minute lead during a tedious contest with struggling Bolton.
The subsequent minutes after Ben Arfa's astonishing slalom saw an unnatural silence descend upon Tyneside as supporters from both sides engaged in quiet discussion, trying to comprehend what had transpired before their disbelieving eyes. Almost immediately the throngs of captivated Geordies took to their phones, booted up their computers, logged onto their twitter accounts and strived to inform the globe of the genius they had just bore witness too.
As expected the inevitable comparisons with Lionel Messi weren't long in forthcoming as the Magpies fan base utilised every superlative the dictionary had to offer in an effort to recount the divinity of their Gallic idol. Thousands of star-struck Newcastle fanatics had convinced themselves that the 25-year-old stood on an equal plane to that of Barcelona's mercurial Argentinian. Apparently one extraordinary feat of football brilliance against a team battling for their lives at the foot of the Premier League is all it takes for a player to be deemed world class.
There is no doubting that his penetrating burst through the Wanderers rear-guard was akin to those perpetrated by Messi week in, week out. The genesis of the goal showcased everything Ben Arfa is about. From the impudent Cruyff turn in the centre circle, that left Sam Rickets on his backside, to an explosion of pace coupled with near perfect poise and close control that saw him glide through a clutch of purple shirts like they weren't even there before nonchalantly toe-poking the ball past Adam Bogdan and into the Gallowgate net.
But to put him up there with the best footballers this planet has to offer is a step too far. Comparing Ben Arfa to players like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the basis of one goal is absurd. Don't get me wrong, the Newcastle number 10 is an exciting talent on his day and he may be able to rub shoulders with the world's finest in the future. But right now there is a canyon separating him from that elite group.
It's as if the former Lyon and Marseille ace's performances in the early part of the season have been forgotten now that he's hit a purple patch. His injury record is well documented and it was plainly evident that Ben Arfa was finding it tough to adapt on account of that.
Unlike France, the pace and physical aspects of the Premier League are unrelenting. He was bullied off the ball, snuffed out and exhausted by the sheer speed of the English game.
Alan Pardew's preference for him to play behind a central striker gave him limited opportunities to exert his influence. Games passed him by in a flash making him a virtual passenger. When in possession he was guilty of over indulging, opting to try and take on three or four players when an easy pass was available. Teams found him out with ease and picked him off without breaking a sweat. His limp display against Chelsea in December, when Pardew hauled him off after an ineffective first half, seemed to signal the end of his career on Tyneside.
The same fans that chant his name in jubilation will have been the ones writing him off as another foreign flop unable to cut the mustard on British shores. But to his credit he's started to show just why the cream of the European club crop once courted his signature so ferociously. Since the New Year he's been in sparkling form on the right of Newcastle's attacking prong, scoring and creating goals at his own leisure.
Yet, whilst Ben Arfa's creative authority during games has steadily risen, he's still not at a level to be considered a world-class player. One goal doesn't earn him such an accolade. Despite his rapid improvement on the field there are times when he'll become invisible during play. His fabulous 14th-minute strike against Arsenal last month was followed by a near anonymity for the remaining 76 minutes. Even in Newcastle's recent success at Swansea he drifted in and out of the action without ever making a significant difference in the final third.
That is what separates him from the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, who have positive impacts on every game they play. They've done it on the domestic and European stage with an unnerving consistency. Ben Arfa has shown erratic flashes of his talent and artistry throughout his career. He's a player that blows hot and cold in equal measure and is unable to string a steady run of form together. That's what sets him apart from the players considered the best in the world despite the predestined objections of the Geordie nation. The prospect of him finally entering bracket isn't an entirely ridiculous notion. But right now he's nowhere near.
You can follow Jak on Twitter at @kajynnep.