Not yet at the top of his game, but Ben Arfa is back

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) Hatem Ben Arfa is back on a football pitch and it's already proving a winning experience for the skillful winger. But the former France international missed his chance this weekend to take revenge on former club Paris Saint-Germain, which ignored him throughout last season.

The much-traveled Ben Arfa is trying to relaunch his career in Rennes after completing a move from PSG to the Brittany side on a one-year deal with an option for an extra year. He came on as a second-half substitute as PSG traveled to Rennes on Sunday, but could not help the hosts avoid a 3-1 loss.

Once regarded as the most promising player of his generation, the 31-year-old Ben Arfa wasted time last season at PSG after being frozen out by then-coach Unai Emery. Emery criticized his work rate and banished him to the reserves.

Ben Arfa voiced his concerns - he did not play a single game last season - and then worked hard during the summer to stay in shape and land a contract with Rennes.

After such a long absence, Ben Arfa is at the top of his game and needs to improve his physical condition before he starts.

His new coach, Sabri Lamouchi, gave him some playing time midweek in the Europa League and Ben Arfa repaid him for his confidence with a stoppage-time winner, scoring from the spot against Jablonec after coming off the bench.

"We know he'll need some time to get up to the pace of things, but he'll give us more evenings like that," Lamouchi said. "He's a magician. He's a player who needs no introduction."

Ben Arfa was among the most promising young players in France when he debuted with Lyon in 2004. After a chaotic stint in the Premier League at Newcastle, he revived his career with Nice during the 2015-16 season, scoring 17 league goals. His excellent performances earned him a move to PSG after club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi made his purchase a priority. But the move turned into a bitter experience.

With a goal and an assist, Kenny Lala received praises from pundits after playing a decisive role in Strasbourg's first win at home this season.

The 26-year-old Lala scored the equalizer in a 3-1 defeat of Amiens with a curled free kick, and he then delivered a cross that Benjamin Corgnet headed home at the far post.

Lala has been flourishing in the 3-4-1-2 implemented by Strasbourg coach Thierry Laurey in his team's last two matches. In that system, with a three-man defense behind him, Lala is playing higher up the pitch with fewer defensive duties and more freedom to burst down the flank. He delivered seven crosses against Amiens, but Laurey is expecting even more from him.

"I would like to see him playing like that more often," Laurey said. "He has got a huge potential, but sometimes he lacks concentration and can experience some slackening."

Having just started a managerial career with third-tier English club Fleetwood Town, Joey Barton is already dreaming of a return to France.

The former Marseille midfielder told L'Equipe newspaper he hopes he will get the chance to return to the French league club as a coach. Barton played 25 matches for Marseille, where his fast-flowing temper made him a fan favorite during in 2012-13.

"I would love to coach OM one day," Barton was quoted as saying. "Honestly, I could coach Marseille without problem. I know the club inside out, I understand the people and the culture."

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Updated September 24, 2018

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