'Maybe I'd be like Lionel Messi today' - Ben Arfa regrets past immaturity

The 25-year-old attacker believes he would have reached a higher level with more focus earlier in his career, but is determined to win a place in France's World Cup 2014 squad

Newcastle attacker Hatem Ben Arfa has suggested that a lack of maturity early in his career has prevented him from reaching his true potential, but feels he can still match Lionel Messi’s talent.

The midfielder was touted for success from a young age, working his way through the Lyon youth system before making his professional bow at the age of 17.

However, disputes at both his first club and again at Marseille tarnished his reputation and stunted his progression, before he was loaned to Newcastle and later made his move permanent.

He told le 10 Sport: "I regret not being mature earlier, because I think today I'd have evolved to a higher level. Maybe I'd be like Lionel Messi today. But I still have time, I can catch up."

Ben Arfa was overlooked for the France squads for both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, and has not added to his 13 caps since a disagreement with coach Laurent Blanc at Euro 2012.

The midfielder, however, is determined to win a place in the squad for the World Cup in Brazil at the end of next season.

"In my mind, I always have World Cup 2014, and for me it is impossible that I do not go," Ben Arfa said.

"In the current generation, there are many talented players. But I think that there is a lack of leaders. If I had to give it a name, I would say that Karim Benzema can be a leader."

The attacker has been out since the end of last year with a hamstring injury but is due to return to action shortly.

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