Newcastle United midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa believes he could have been as good as Lionel Messi if only he had grown up more quickly.
The France international, 25, has had the reputation of a precocious bad boy in his home country ever since he came to public attention as a teenager in a TV documentary about his time at the elite training centre in Clairefontaine alongside the likes of Arsenal's Abou Diaby and Montpellier's Ligue 1-winning goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren.
Tempestuous ends to his stays at Lyon and Marseille merely reinforced his negative public image, and Ben Arfa admitted he is - in part - to blame for not yet fulfilling his undoubted potential.
"I regret not being mature earlier, because I think that today I would be playing at a higher level," the Paris-born midfielder told Surface magazine in an interview to be published on Thursday. "Perhaps I would be like [Messi] today. But I've still got time, I can catch him up."
Though his stay on Tyneside has been badly disrupted by injury, Ben Arfa has certainly shown flashes of skill the Barcelona star would be proud of. The former teenage prodigy returned to first-team training this week after another enforced injury lay-off, and now hopes to catch the eye of French national team coach Didier Deschamps, who jettisoned Ben Arfa while in charge of Marseille, and force his way onto the plane for the next World Cup in Brazil.
"In my head, I've still got the 2014 World Cup. For me, it's impossible I don't play in it," Ben Arfa, who was part of Laurent Blanc's Euro 2012 squad, said. "The current generation has a lot of talented players. But I think they lack leaders."