A quick glance at the top of the English Premier League scoring table finds the name of Demba Ba among the more familliar names of EPL stalwarts such as Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Emmanuel Adebayor and Frank Lampard. Like his fellow former Bundesliga rival Edin Dzeko, former Hoffenheim man Ba is finding life in England going quite well, thank you, as Ba has already accumulated nine goals in just twelve matches, leading his Newcastle United club to the unaccustomed heights of the EPL table.
For Ba, 26, his journey to England has been a long time coming. The Senegalese international was born in a suburb of Paris but grew up in the Saint-Valery-en-Caux commune of northern France, overlooking the English channel. Ba had trials with English clubs Barnsley and Watford in 2004, signing a one year deal at Vicarage Road but never seeing senior team action.
Ba returned to France, and established himself as a goal-scorer with Rouen and was signed by Belgian club R.E. Mouscron. Ba scored 22 goals in 26 Rouen matches in 2005-2006 and 8 in 12 games in Belgium the following season while missing almost eight months of the season with a broken leg. When he recovered, Ba scored seven times in nine matches for Mouscron, leading to not only his first international cap for Senegal but his 3 million euro transfer to then 2. Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim.
His first season at Hoffenheim was a historic one, as the ‘village team’ won its inaugural promotion to the top-tier following its only season in 2. Bundesliga. Ba scored 12 goals in 2007-2008 for Ralf Rangnick’s side, and the momentum continued for the club the following season as Hoffenheim were outstanding in their top-flight Hinrunde debut, winning the 2008-2009 Herbstmeister by playing marvelous, attacking football that electrified Europe, led by Vedad Ibisevic (who scored 18 goals in 17 matches), Ba and Chinedu Obasi. A knee injury during the winter break to league-leading scorer Ibisevic, however, derailed Hoffenheim’s chances for glory and they slumped in the second half, finishing seventh in the table, and Ba was a major contributor to their quite respectable finish in their 1. Bundesliga debut, bagging 14 goals.
The following season was a letdown for both Hoffenheim and Ba personally, as dogged by injuries and transfer rumors, he only played in 18 matches in all competitions, scoring 5 times. But 2010-2011 found Ba on the rebound, scoring 6 times in the Bundesliga Hinrunde and adding another three goals in the Pokal.
But the winter break found Hoffenheim in disarray. Software mogul Dietmar Hopp, who had financed Hoffenheim’s rise from the 8th division to the top-tier of German football, had re-thought his financial commitment to the club, leading to the sale of midfielder Luiz Gustavo without the input of Rangnick, which caused the coach who had led Hoffenheim to a place at the top flight of professional footballing to resign. Ba added to the chaos by staging a personal strike, refusing to attend winter training camp as he lobbied for a transfer to England, a move he felt was owed him by the club. Ba failed his medical exam prior to signing with Stoke City, but near the end of the transfer window was signed by West Ham United. His seven goals in 12 appearances for the Hammers, however, were not enough for them to avoid relegation, and an escape clause in Ba’s West Ham contract allowed him to sign for Newcastle United in the summer on a free transfer.
Newcastle United finished 12th in the EPL table in 2010-2011 after being promoted following their 2009-2010 season in the Championship, England’s second division. Led by veteran EPL coach Allen Pardew and the talents of Ba, though, the Magpies currently sit fourth in the table and have only lost once through the first third of the current season, winning seven league fixtures and drawing five. Ba leads the club with 9 goals, triple that of the club’s second leading scorer, Leon Best. Ba got off to a slow start at Tyneside, not scoring until the club’s sixth EPL match of the campaign, but when he opened his account, he opened it in style, scoring all three goals in Newcastle’s win over Blackburn Rovers on September 24. The 6’2″ striker also scored a Halloween hat trick against Stoke City, the team that declined to sign him for feelings that his knee was an injury time-bomb ready to explode, and scored the equalizer from the spot at Old Trafford last week to give Newcastle United a point against giants Manchester United.
The former Hoffenheim man has found a home in England. In the 2011 calendar year, he trails only van Persie and Rooney for the most goals scored in the Premiership, netting a total 16 times in only 24 matches for the Hammers and Magpies. He is the first foreigner to score a hattrick for Newcastle United in more than half a century, and has ably replaced the Magpies’ Andy Carroll, gone last winter to Liverpool, as a goal-getter at St. James Park. Pardew, in a recent Simon Turnbull article for The Independent, shared his happiness concerning the accomplishments of the Senegalese international.
“Demba is doing really well,” Pardew reflected. ” I’ve been playing him in a slightly different role to the one he was performing at West Ham, more of a link role, and I think that’s improved him.”
“It’s enabling him to be more involved in the game and, technically, I think he’s a great player. When you are under pressure, you need somebody to take the ball up the top of the pitch and Demba can do that. He knows how to buy some time, keep possession, or draw a foul to ease the pressure. He did that terrifically at Stoke.”
As far his success, Ba stated that “I just hope to continue doing what I’m doing right now and work hard on and off the pitch at becoming a better striker. It doesn’t bother me that people like Van Persie and Rooney get more recognition. Not at all. I don’t play football to be recognised by people in the country, to be famous. I do it because I love it. I have always been like that.”
Ba, who wears the number 19 for the Magpies, isn’t concerned about getting the famed Newcastle number 9 jersey worn by Carroll, the legendary Toon favorite Alan Shearer and other Tyneside legends such as Hughie Gallacher, Jackie Milburn and Malcolm Macdonald. “Maybe it would mean something to the supporters,” he says. “But you can have the No 9 shirt and never score.”
But if he continues his current form, the pragmatic Demba Ba will become a St. James Park legend for the trophy-starved Toon Army, no matter what number he carries on the back of his jersey. And with that form, Ba may look forward to a callup to represent Senegal in the African Cup of Nations tournament beginning in January, although he will face stiff competition to claim a spot on the Lions’ front line from Lille’s Moussa Sow, Copenhagen’s Dame N’Doye (who has scored 50 goals in 89 matches for the Danish champions) and former Bundesliga rival Demba Papiss Cisse of SC Freiburg. Although the upstart Magpies have EPL heavyweights Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea breathing down their necks for a European spot next season, the heady atmosphere at St. James Park is a welcome relief to the recent struggles of the club and Demba Ba is reigning supreme in Tyneside.