Juninho Pernambucano believed ex-Newcastle misfit Hatem Ben Arfa was destined to become a Real Madrid or Barcelona standout during their time together at Lyon.
Juninho Pernambucano has told RMC that he expected former Lyon teammate Hatem Ben Arfa to go on to star for some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Juninho was part of the Lyon side which won seven straight Ligue 1 titles during the 2000s, with Ben Arfa joining him in the first-team in 2004 as the club’s star prospect.
The creative midfielder helped the club to four championships before leaving for Marseille in 2008 but, after failing to live up to expectations during his two seasons at the Stade Velodrome, moved on to Newcastle United in August 2010.
Showing some brief flashes of class during his time in the North East, the now-released Ben Arfa’s Premier League career was a disappointment for the most part, and Juninho has expressed his shock that the Frenchman has so far failed to live up to his past promise.
"I saw him grow up. He was a player of enormous talent. He was difficult to handle sometimes, but not as bad as people think," the ex-Brazil international said.
"Given his talent, we thought we would see him go to Madrid, to Barcelona. Now, he also has to accept he has never established himself in football. He musn't stop now. He's 27, he can still improve. He's a boy who had a lot of talent."
Ben Arfa, 27, signed an 18-month deal with Nice last month after Newcastle terminated his contract, but was denied clearance from FIFA having appeared in competitive games for two teams – the Magpies and Hull on loan – this season.
Nice contested the ruling on the basis that he had only represented Newcastle’s reserve team, but FIFA regulations regard “under-21 professional development league” matches as competitive fixtures.
His deal with the Ligue 1 outfit terminated as a result, the 13-times capped international’s career is now at a crossroads, with the Daily Mail reporting that he could head to MLS, where the summer calendar would allow him to make an immediate return to the pitch.