HATEM Ben Arfa has raced ahead of schedule in his battle to return from a broken leg.
The midfielder was visited by Newcastle club doctors at his rehabilitation centre in the South of France last week and his return to training has been moved forward to the first week of February – which is fantastic news for United and new manager Alan Pardew.
There were fears that Ben Arfa would not play again this season after the horrendous sliding challenge from Nigel De Jong that broke his leg in two place, while making his fourth appearance for Newcastle after joining on a season-long loan from Marseille.
But as St James' Park prepares a frosty welcome for Dutch midfielder De Jong and his Manchester City team-mates for the return match on Boxing Day, there is at least a positive dispatch from across the Channel to warm United hearts.
Ben Arfa's agent Simon Stainrod revealed to The Journal that he has begun pool work at the Capbreton centre in France and is strengthening his leg muscles with a view to returning much earlier than expected.
And intriguingly, Pardew has already been in touch to check on the fitness of a player who could yet play a significant part in United's season.
“Hatem is doing really, really well,” Stainrod told The Journal.
“He's working really hard and he's in a centre where they are working intensively from Monday to Friday on the injury and it is definitely helping him to make plenty of progress.
“I think from the original prognosis, it's going to be much, much better than that. You can never tell 100% but hopefully he's going to be back in the first week of February, which is just fantastic. It could be later, it could be earlier but that's better than anyone thought.
“The club doctor came from Newcastle to see him last week and he was really delighted with Hatem's progress. He's working hard and there are a group of specialists working with him – he's really in the best place.
“He's working on his strength and that is the next step, but he's dedicated and he's absolutely determined to get back in a Newcastle shirt and repay the supporters for their support through all of this.”
Things have moved on at St James' Park since the mercurial Marseille midfielder was last in the North East.
And like the rest of the dressing room, Ben Arfa was shocked at the axing of popular Hughton a fortnight ago. The ex-Newcastle chief impressed the Frenchman by visiting him in hospital and there was a determination to make a return for Hughton. But he has had positive discussions with Pardew, who sees a central role for Ben Arfa when he returns.
“Hatem was a little bit upset by what happened with Chris but while it sounds harsh, football is football and his responsibility is with [c=blue!important][c=blue!important]Newcastle
As United hope to welcome back Ben Arfa in the New Year they have slapped a 'hands off' warning on star asset Andy Carroll – who is attracting reported interest from Spurs.
A £20million offer has been mooted in January, but Pardew says there is no way United will sell.
“It does get boring but it is not going to stop – it will never stop,” he said of the transfer rumours surrounding the Newcastle number nine.
“It won't stop because he's a talent and that's what happens at big clubs.
“We have to have a big-club mentality and hold on to our best player.”
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