It didn’t take long for Premier League fans to embrace Newcastle’s Senegalese striker. After all, it’s hard to resist a player that admits, “I love syrup … It’s something I can’t live without, like an addiction.”
But before this interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves in 2012, Demba Ba was still relatively new to the British game, having only swapped the Bundesliga for the Premier League a year previously. The contrast between Ba’s reputation in England and Germany is interesting, to say the least.
The forward was never far from controversy in the Bundesliga during his turbulent, yet successful time with TSG Hoffenheim. It was a club he joined in 2007 for a fee around £2.5m from Belgian outfit Excelsior Mouscron, where he had scored 8 goals in 10 league games.
Hoffenheim were marauding up the German pyramid system with purpose and had just reached the 2.Bundesliga by the time Ba switched to South-West Germany. Head coach Ralf Rangnick was putting the final touches to the team ready to launch as assault on the top-flight, with Ba teaming up with impressive Bosnian duo Vedad Ibisevic and Sejad Salihovic.
Alongside Chinedu Obasi, Ba was the team’s top scorer with 12 goals which contributed to club’s historic promotion. The following season, Hoffenheim maintained their winning form, which surprised the whole country. By the time they took on FC Bayern in December 2008, Ba’s side were three points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, as he provided the perfect partner for Ibisevic with his dynamism, presence and ability to run the channels.
The form of two centre-forwards that season, Mario Gomez and Ba, would be involved in an elongated transfer battle at the end of the season. The German international became the record Bundesliga signing – until Javi Martinez this summer – when Bayern Munich forked out around 35 million euros to capture the striker who had netted 35 goals in 44 competitive games for Stuttgart that season. Gomez’s departure left a gaping hole in the team’s attack and by aiming to develop their style of play, Hoffenheim’s Ba was the prime target.
However, Stuttgart’s offer of 15 million euros fell short of activating a 20 million release-fee clause listed on the striker’s contract. This figure was far higher than the one on his Newcastle contract. Despite a large amount being offered for Ba, Rangnick told the newspaper Rhein-Neckar Zeitung in June 2009:
“If VfB regard Demba Ba as a legitimate successor of Mario Gomez, then the offer must also be correspondingly. The term ‘Unsellable’ exists nowhere. Or to stay in the football language, the ball is currently at Stuttgart and also at Demba.”
This was enough to deter Stuttgart from signing the Senegal talisman who controversially revealed in an interview with popular German tabloid BILD that he was keen to move to the Reds in 2009 to realise a dream of playing in the UEFA Champions League. His form was affected in the following seasons, scoring only 11 league goals in two years – as Hoffenheim’s contentedness with mid-table safety developed.
The striker was set on leaving Hoffenheim during the January transfer window in 2011 and took frantic steps to frustrate the club’s hierarchy and more importantly, force a move. Ba refused to join their winter training camp in La Manga, Spain, with the hope that his actions would lead to a reduced sale price from the 20 million stated on his contract.
"This is crazy. This is something I’ve never experienced. Demba’s behaviour will naturally draw consequences.” Hoffenheim’s manager Erwin Tanner explained in 2011. At the end of that campaign, club owner Hopp described Ba as “worse than Diego” (who was plying his trade at Werder Bremen) and a disruptive influence in their ranks.
However, less than a fortnight after his exile, Ba’s dream of a move to England hit a snag when he failed a medical at the Britannia Stadium, after a £7.1m transfer had been agreed between Stoke and Hoffenheim. A week later, though, he headed south to join West Ham United on an undisclosed fee, based on his appearances in the Premier League. Even seven goals in 12 games could not prevent the Hammers dropping to the Championship – allowing Ba to trigger another clause on his contract and earning a three-year-deal at Newcastle United.
After a brilliant start to his Newcastle career, the St James’ Park faithful soon had another Senegalese international striker in Papiss Demba Cisse who joined from Bundesliga side SC Freiburg for £10m in January 2012. Cisse and Ba became a powerful and potent partnership with others, such as Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tioté thriving in a confident Magpies squad. Despite the similar attributes of both strikers, their positional understanding of each other’s game was evident, as they interchanged to allow one to play on the last shoulder of the defender and the other as the rounded striker.
Twelve strikes last season, 13 by this month – and Ba was on the move again, returning to London in a £8m switch to Chelsea to provide competition for Fernando Torres. The club’s interim manager Rafael Benitez may be tempted to include both in his team, although, that may force Ba into a wide-attacking role which he did play frequently at Hoffenheim.
The striker has so far made a good impression since his arrival from the continent, bringing an enthusiastic attitude to the game and returning with goals for Newcastle and West Ham. His move to Chelsea, though, is a different beast to his previous clubs, given their ambitions and expectations, which will be a massive test, mentally, for someone that has never been far from a story in his career.
Ba’s dream debut on the weekend, scoring 2 goals in his new colours, is a strong indicator he’s not only ready for the challenge, but there’s plenty more to come from him.
This piece was written by Ross Dunbar, a regular contributor to AFR. You should follow Ross on Twitter at @rossdunbar93. Comments below please.
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