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Hatem Ben Arfa

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Ben Arfa’s move to PSG falling flat as he is again left out

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PARIS (AP) Hatem Ben Arfa‘s dream move to French champion Paris Saint-Germain is falling flat, and coach Unai Emery remains evasive as to why he keeps leaving him out of his squad.

Ben Arfa was not included for Tuesday’s home match against Dijon, the third straight game he has been axed – even though it would appear to be just the right sort of match to boost Ben Arfa’s confidence given that Dijon is struggling in 16th place.

[ MORE: Guessing the Ballon d’Or shortlist ]

“It’s a purely sporting decision,” Emery said tersely at a pre-match news conference on Monday. “There are players who are ready and those who are not.”

After scoring 17 league goals for Nice last season, many of them spectacular individual efforts featuring his trademark quick feet and mazy dribbling skills, the 29-year-old winger joined PSG on a two-year-deal.

His outstanding season with Nice came after a difficult end to his career with English side Newcastle, which farmed him out on loan to Hull, a side then struggling in the Premier League.

Therefore, the move to PSG was a personal triumph for Ben Arfa, one of the most gifted players of his generation and a teen sensation with former French champion Lyon.

Joining PSG was also meant to be the stepping stone back to the France side. Ben Arfa narrowly missed out on a place in Didier Deschamps’ European Championship squad earlier this year, having made the larger provisional squad.

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But the PSG move has proved problematic so far.

Ben Arfa has started only two league games and been taken off in both midway through the second half.

Pressed further on why Ben Arfa was again left out, the Spanish coach – who won three straight Europa League titles with Sevilla – again played down the issue.

“He’s a player like the others,” Emery said. “Those who are in the squad are those best prepared to play tomorrow.”

However, in the days leading up to last week’s Champions League game against Arsenal, Emery criticized Ben Arfa’s work-rate and said he needed to do much more.

Similar reproaches were made by Alan Pardew, his former coach at Newcastle, and by Hull coach Steve Bruce.

For all of his talent, and Barcelona was also keen to sign him this season as a squad player, Ben Arfa continues to puzzle coaches.

Benzema says race, not sex-tape scandal, reason for his EURO 2016 exclusion

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PARIS (AP) Karim Benzema has accused Didier Deschamps of giving in to pressure from racists when the France coach decided not to include him in the squad for the European Championship.

[ MORE: All the latest EURO 2016 news ]

In an interview with Spanish sports newspaper Marca published Wednesday, Benzema said he does not believe that Deschamps is a racist, but that he “bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France.”

Deschamps has been a long-time supporter of Benzema, who has been suspended from the national team because of his involvement in an extortion scam over a sex tape involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

“I would have liked to play for my country, but unfortunately that’s impossible,” said Benzema, who is of Algerian descent. “Missing the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a setback, but the European Championship at home is even harder. This is one of the biggest disappointments I have had, without a doubt.”

[ MORE: Deschamps names star-filled squad for EURO 2016 ]

This latest off-the-field controversy is unlikely to improve Benzema’s already tarnished image in his own country. France’s junior minister for sports, Thierry Braillard, said on Twitter that Benzema’s statement is “unjustified and unacceptable. Total support to FFF (French football federation) and Didier Deschamps.”

Benzema’s comments echoed those of former France international Eric Cantona, who said last week that Deschamps might have left out Benzema and Nice winger Hatem Ben Arfa on racial grounds.

Ben Arfa – whose father is a former Tunisia international – scored 17 goals in 33 French league matches this season but was not selected in Deschamps’ group of players for the tournament starting in France on June 10.

Deschamps had many offensive options at his disposal and picked six attacking players, including Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and Andre-Pierre Gignac.

[ MORE: Zlatan is really enjoying the speculation over his next club

“Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player,” Cantona told the Guardian newspaper. “But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know. Like the Mormons in America. So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.”

Deschamps’ lawyer said he will sue Cantona for his comments.

Benzema, who won the Champions League with Real Madrid last week, said the political context in France, where the far right has been gaining political support over the past five years, played against him.

France’s far right, anti-immigrant National Front is increasingly popular under leader Marine Le Pen, who has brought it toward the political mainstream – and who is expected to make it into the presidential election runoff next year. The party was the top vote-getter in regional and European elections last year, but maneuvering by traditional parties kept it from winning any governorships, and may keep Le Pen from the presidency.

In addition to its core anti-immigration message, the party rails against what it calls the “Islamization” of France and wants France out of the euro and the European Union – though one of its major pulpits is the European Parliament, where it’s part of a far right bloc.

[ MORE: Payet and … Milner(?!) … EURO’s most in-form players ]

“You have to know that in France the extremist party reached the second round in the last two elections,” Benzema said.

Earlier this year, French football federation president Noel Le Graet spoke of his shock at the amount of racist hate mail he received telling him not to select Benzema.

Speaking to reporters from Austria, where the France squad is preparing for Euro 2016, Le Graet insisted Benzema has not been suspended for life.

“We’ll do without him during Euro 2016, then we’ll see,” Le Graet said. “I like him and I did not change my mind. He got a bit carried away, I’d rather he were a bit more friendly, but I won’t make further comment on the issue.”

Benzema, who has 27 goals in 81 international matches, also missed the 2010 World Cup. Former France coach Raymond Domenech left him out of his squad in the wake of another scandal, when Benzema and teammate Franck Ribery were handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute. Both were acquitted.

“France is going to realize that it has been unfair to me,” Benzema said.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

VIDEO: Hatem Ben Arfa came so close to another wonder goal

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If you look up the word “enigma” in the dictionary, Hatem Ben Arfa‘s picture really should accompany the official definition, which, by the way, is “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

You remember Ben Arfa, right? If you do, then you’ve asked yourself countless times, “Why is he the way that he is?” In other words, there might be no more than a few dozen players in the world with more footballing talent than the 28-year-old Frenchman, but his maturity and mindset never seemed to match up.

How could anyone forget examples A and B of Ben Arfa’s brilliance?

On Monday, Ben Arfa, who now plays for Ligue 1 side Nice, did something very, very similar to the wonder goals linked above, only to see his latest bit of magic snuffed out on the goal line.

That’s six defenders that Ben Arfa slaloms past before the ball is ultimately cleared off the line. I’m fairly certain the flubbed shot was more of an intentional dummy than a whiff on Ben Arfa’s part, which would have only added to the brilliance we were all so cruelly denied.

Thursday Transfer Rumor Roundup: Ben Arfa to Real Madrid, El Ghazi to Premier League

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With the January transfer window just around the corner, some Premier League teams are looking for a jolt in the backside, others simply searching for depth that will carry them through any potential struggles that often come with a long league season.

Leicester City remains atop the table and will be there when the calendar switches, but there’s a lot of pressure on their top players who have been sensational thus far but at the moment need to keep that unsustainable form in order for the club to remain in that position.

As a result, the Foxes could go searching for the help in the area they’ve excelled at the most this season: attacker. Particularly, they could be in play for Ajax youngster Anwar El Ghazi, a 20-year-old who can play either out wide or up front, and he’s impressed with eight goals in 13 league appearances for the Dutch giants this year.

El Ghazi has already been linked to Manchester United, Southampton, and Newcastle, likely for their Dutch connections already in place in with the likes Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum. However, many Eredivisie players have come to the Premier League and only few have succeeded, which should work in Leicester’s favor. Could they swoop in and complete yet another upset? It would take much of the pressure off the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news, gossip ]

Speaking of Southampton, manager Ronald Koeman admitted the club is a striker light, something that would corroborate their connection to El Ghazi and other attacking players. Graziano Pelle is in poor form and currently injured, and Jay Rodriguez has struggled with injury for much of the year. “If we need to sign a player, it needs to be a striker,” Koeman said, although he did also add it’s “too early to make conclusions about that.”

Real Madrid is reportedly keeping tabs on flashy former Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa, who currently plays for Ligue 1 side Nice. The 28-year-old has seven goals in 18 league appearances this season, although he has not scored or assisted a goal since October 18. Nevertheless, Nice manager Claude Puel says that Madrid has its eye on the talented and eclectic Frenchman.

Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink shot down any chance of Cesc Fabregas leaving the club mid-season, saying that they need all their talent to overcome a difficult first half of the year. When asked about the rumblings that Fabregas is unhappy at Stamford Bridge, he said, “We need all the players here until the end of the season. Chelsea are still in a position where they have to improve a lot.”

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