"It may be THE mess of 21st century football", regrets the former agent of Ben Arfa

“It may be THE mess of 21st century football”, regrets the former agent of Ben Arfa

First agent of Hatem Ben Arfa for four years, when he was revealed to Olympique Lyonnais, Frédéric Guerra frankly confided to RMC Sport his sadness to see this talent wasted by too much individualism. Whether on or off the pitch, where the 35-year-old Frenchman clashed over the weekend with a teammate and coach in Lille.

Frédéric Guerra, you who know Hatem Ben Arfa well: where did it go wrong with him, to lead to the waste of a talent that was presented twenty years ago as the rare pearl of French football?

It bugged psychologically a long time ago, in his childhood. He was king, king, king. He was always told his rights but never his duties. When I spotted him and his parents trusted me, I was convinced that I had a player, if we worked on his mind, who would be a future Ballon d’Or, he had so much talent. It will remain a huge mess, it may be THE football mess of the 21st century.

Is it the fact of having attached this label of future pearl too early to him that finally served him?

No, there are plenty of players who were told very early on that they would be pearls. And who were. Cristiano Ronaldo became a huge worker very early on, someone who always questioned himself. Karim Benzema did exactly the same route. These are people who said to themselves that to reach the top, it took work, work, work. And that talent was not enough. But his mentor, Michel Ouazine (his adviser and representative, editor’s note), only told him that talent was enough.

Hatem is 35 today, but he will be 17 all his life

I remember that once in Marseille, Didier Deschamps had put him on the bench. Michel said to me: “He puts him on the bench because he asks him to defend. But we don’t ask a future Ballon d’Or to defend!”. And he says that in front of Ben Arfa… It can’t help the boy grow. Hatem is 35 today, but he will be 17 all his life. He’s a child.

Ben Arfa and Benzema
Ben Arfa and Benzema © AFP

Teammates in their younger Lyon years, Karim Benzema seemed to have inherently less talent in each foot than Ben Arfa at the start. Finally, it is Benzema who will have an extraordinary career…

When I took care of the two, in U17, I went to see them in training. I saw Karim watching Hatem playfully, to see what he was doing. Karim then try to do it again, and do it again… Thanks to Hatem, Karim, who had understood that he was second behind him, realized that talent was not going to be enough. It gave him this desire to be the first, and he did it very well. Hatem didn’t realize it, he thought that talent would be enough. And when we look at him today, he is still convinced of it. I’m sure some psychiatrists would rack their brains over a character as difficult as Hatem’s.

How do you judge its evolution?

During the four years that I took care of him in Lyon, I saw that all the people who were around him are just luggage carriers. His talent goes beyond everything. He’s a boy who never asks you for anything but always makes you feel like you owe him everything. He doesn’t give you respect, but he demands respect. It does not give you conviviality but it requires presence. He doesn’t give you a smile but he demands that you arch your back all the time.

There will always be someone to believe that Hatem is manageable.

He is someone who revolves only around him, and who gives the impression of sympathy, empathy. But this is totally false. He is a boy who is completely false, between the image he tries to give in public and what he really is. He remains a very endearing boy. But who has a very individualistic functioning, which we also find on the ground. I have a little harsh words with him, because despite the fact that he cheated on me for four years, he’s a boy to whom I was very attached. Really.

We sense a lot of bitterness in your judgement…

Hatem should have been an ordinary player, and this talent, he should have given it to someone else who had more respect for himself. In order to be able to show all these children who idolize this kind of players, that with work we can reach even higher. On that, I have a real bitterness, yes.

Does his altercation with Tiago Djalo and Jocelyn Gourvennec, Saturday in the locker room after Bordeaux (0-0, 30th day of Ligue 1), surprise you?

No. Hatem is a boy who has no filter between the brain and the mouth. There are people who mean everything they say, but who don’t say everything they mean. Hatem is going to tell him everything he thinks, and with force. What is reported to us by the press, when he says that his team plays too low: it is a footballer’s analysis which is perhaps not false at the moment T. On the other hand, to add: “We n is not at Guingamp here”, it is necessarily to want to hurt his trainer who went through Guingamp. And it’s intolerable for a locker room, a president, an institution. Again, if he made differences like Mbappé at Paris Saint-Germain… but we are not there in Lille, and we will not be there with the next one. Because there will be a next one. There will always be someone to believe that Hatem is manageable and up to the challenge.

Interview by Edward Jay

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