Sky Tyne and Wear are reporting that "tentative contact" has been made to Newcastle United by Liverpool suggesting a potential swap move involving Hatem Ben Arfa and Andy Carroll. If you're like me, your initial reaction upon reading that sentence was to close your browser window and walk away for a sandwich snickering and muttering under your breath. Understanding that any talk of this kind of deal hinges first upon West Ham United's £17m option on the ever so briefly tenured former number 9 shirt, it may be worth a moment to consider exactly what this would mean.
From Newcastle United's perspective, it makes a lot of sense to bring Andy Carroll back into the fold at St. James' Park. If this season has taught us anything about our squad the primary lesson would be that Papiss Cissé is not a striker that is going to be nearly effective playing alone up top. At the very least he needs another striker with him who is willing to do the ball-winning work and whom he can play off of, a la Leon Best, for instance. Alan Pardew (admittedly with some reason) clearly has no faith in Shola Ameobi to return to the dangerous striking days of his youth, and beyond that is . Adam Campbell has put himself into first team consideration, but the times he has been given minutes by AP he has been studiously ignored by the other players on the pitch indicating that one way or the other it is not the time for Campbell to make a meaningful impact... yet.
In spite of suffering another injury setback this season, Andy Carroll has looked much more like the player that Mike Ashley sold of for £35m at the close of the January transfer window in 2011 than he ever did in the red shirt of Liverpool. 4 goals in his last 5 matches for the Hammers might just suggest that he's over the form that saw him score 1 in 18 for West Ham to start the season. Even if you don't believe that his scoring touch is back 100%, you could easily argue that it doesn't need to be. Again, if you have someone like Carroll willing to do the ball-winning in aerial attack and be a pivot point between the defenders/midfielders and Papiss Cisse, you'd have to figure that re-acquiring the lad from Gateshead would be a net positive on the club when considered by itself.
The question then becomes one of two parts: a) Is the Newcastle United squad better, the same or worse without Hatem Ben Arfa? and b) Do you consider Newcastle United and LIverpool to be clubs who should be contesting for the same prizes/league positions next year (assuming Newcastle beat the drop this season)? If you come down on the worse/yes side, then you'd likely be against this swap as a healthy Hatem Ben Arfa would undoubtedly make Liverpool a more dangerous side. Liverpool with another proven creative talent on the pitch is clearly a much more difficult proposition if you believe that Newcastle could challenge them for Europe next year. If you come down on the better or same/no side of things, it's much easier to make the case for this being a decent trade.
There is absolutely no arguing that Hatem Ben Arfa is a tremendously talented player. He has scored some with some amazing individual efforts during his time with Newcastle United. Is his legend bigger than his actual contribution to the Toon, however? In 3 full seasons with the club he has made 38 total appearances. Not much can be done about his chance meetings with Nigel The Butcher (2010) or Roger Espinoza (2011), but the fact remains that he has missed a vast majority of the 129 possible matches in either the Premier League or the Europa League over the last three years (not counting League Cup or FA Cup matches, where HBA has pulled back 4 appearances against that number). He has scored 10 goals across his 38 appearances for Newcastle.
If there is one potential stumbling block to this swap deal, it could be the valuation of Andy Carroll. The Mike Ashley business model is to not pay a penny over perceived price (see most recently Mathieu Debuchy) and he would certainly dearly love nothing more than to pull yet another piece of "brilliance" (if you want to call it that) at the expense of a club that he fleeced in the first place to send AC packing while Liverpool will be looking to cut their losses at as minimal a number as possible.
What say you? If it came down that West Ham didn't exercise their option on Andy Carroll and the proposed HBA/AC swap was on your desk, what would you do?