By Chris Dunlavy
ASK Newcastle fans what Hatem Ben Arfa did during his final season at St James’ Park and the answer will probably be ‘nothing’.
But that’s not strictly true. The French maverick – remembered for his skilful dribbles, spectacular goals and allergic reactions to away games – did play one match in a black and white shirt that season.
The Under-21 clash against Blackburn in the middle of September left little impression on Toon fans but it made a big one on FIFA.
Four months later, after a loan spell at Hull had ended in Ben Arfa going AWOL, Newcastle elected to cut their losses and flog their tiresome talisman to Nice.
Problem solved? Not for Ben Arfa. FIFA rules state a player may sign for no more than three clubs in a single season and play competitively for no more than two.
Gallowgate regulars could have told Sepp Blatter and Co that Ben Arfa hadn’t done anything competitive for about 12 months, but somehow that half-arsed runaround at Ewood Park counted. Nice would have to wait.
With typical flamboyance, Ben Arfa threatened to retire. In the event, he spent six months sunbathing on the French Riviera – funded by Mike Ashley – joined Nice in July and ultimately turned in a season so spectacular he was called up to Euro 2016.
On such occasions, FIFA’s two-club playing rule can seem unnecessarily restrictive. If both parties are happy to part ways, what’s the issue?
Yet the broader thinking behind the regulations – to give players and clubs a degree of security and continuity over a season – more than justifies the odd frustration.
Why, then, aren’t managers treated the same way? Isn’t the man in the dugout just as integral to a side’s success as the players on the pitch?
With the odd exception – and Watford’s promotion to the Premier League in 2015 stands in glorious isolation – history tells us that treating your managers like Apprentice candidates is a highway to hell.
Leeds employed seven managers in three years and went backwards. Derby, now on to their third of the season, are treading water with a squad the envy of the Championship.
Omer Riza is Leyton Orient’s ELEVENTH manager since September 2014, more than any other EFL club in the same period.
Owner Francesco Becchetti is guilty of many things, from shoddy recruitment to a lack of investment, but his propensity to blame coaches for his own failings ranks high among the reasons why Orient are heading out of the League after more than a century.
Players, however hard-working or intelligent, need a consistent message, not a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of voices and opinions.
Brian Clough famously said that, if a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well.
Much as Orient fans wish that was the case, the only way they’re getting shot of Becchetti is if somebody meets his asking price, currently set at a ludicrous £4m.
And, as for the Owners and Directors’ Test, well… that’s about as much use at spotting a wrong ‘un as Neville Chamberlain was.
A 90 per cent owner like Becchetti is largely untouchable. Worse, he will cling to the yoke even as his vessel plummets towards a fiery grave.
Which is exactly why protection is required. Managers, like players, should be subject to a registration system. And over the course of a season, no club should be allowed to register more than two of them, plus a caretaker to fill the gap.
Obviously, exceptions would be required for resignations but – whatever the press releases may claim – we all know those are a rarity.
Would some clubs suffer? Of course. In 2014, Leeds would have been saddled with the mirthless Darko Milanic for an entire season. Then again, maybe Massimo Cellino would have given more thought to appointments if he knew the axe would be under lock and key.
Like Ben Arfa, the odd injustice is inevitable with any rigidly-applied rule. But if it protects clubs like Orient from the recklessness of irresponsible owners, it is surely worth it.