In this week’s Down the Line, Conall Devlin profiles a striker whose rise to stardom and humility has made him one of the most likeable footballers in the Premier League, Newcastle United’s prolific talisman Demba Ba.
Every so often in sport there are individuals who captivate the hearts and minds of all fans, be it through a seemingly improbable road to success, a startling fact about an aspect of their lifestyle, or simply an endearing nature to their character. People fell in love with Usain Bolt when at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games he revealed his pre-race diet consisted of chicken nuggets because he didn’t trust Chinese food- it beggared belief that the record-breaking three-time Olympic gold medallist could treat himself to such nutritional therapy. While congratulating the 2011 Rugby World Cup Champions New Zealand, Ireland Back Row and Carlow native Sean O’Brien admitted on Twitter that “While they were playing a rwc final I was chasing a couple of bulls around that broke out last night for 2 hrs”. Sports fans are unanimous in their adoration for such acts or admissions of modesty and unpretentiousness in an era of the narcissistic professional athlete.
And so it should come as no surprise that when asked to reveal a secret about himself in a Sky Sports interview prior to a devastating match winning performance against Manchester United, Newcastle United’s Demba Ba proclaimed “strawberry syrup” as the ingredient for his rich vein of form this season, prompting an almost Chuck Norris-esque response across the social networking medium. Currently the Premier League’s second top goal scorer with fifteen goals in nineteen appearances, Ba became an overnight sensation, his zero to hero story resonating with the masses.
After all, the career of the 26 year old brought up with his six siblings in a Paris suburb appeared in jeopardy just twelve months ago when after a dispute with his former German club Hoffenheim, a proposed £7.1 million deal to Stoke City fell through for medical reasons as doubts persisted over a stricken left knee, Stoke manager Tony Pulis famously referring to the joint as a “ticking timebomb”. West Ham snapped up the forward on a pay-as-you-play basis, however despite seven goals in twelve appearances Ba could not prevent the Hammers from relegation from the Premier League.
However it was the calculated risk of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew that has paid dividends for the Senegalese international. Newcastle recruited Ba on a free transfer in the summer and the club has subsequently exceeded all expectations thus far this campaign (6th in the table at the time of printing) due in no small manner to the faith placed in Ba’s fitness. He has been a revelation for the ever ambitious Toon Army and undoubtedly one of the stories of the Premier League season.
Newcastle will be anxious to retrieve the services of an unscathed Ba and midfield general Cheick Tiote, currently on Africa Cup of Nations duty with their native Senegal, having gone down to a 5-2 away defeat to Fulham at the weekend. Nonetheless, the signing of international strike partner Papiss Demba Cisse will give fans on Tyneside further optimism that “Feed the Sheep and Ba will score”.
Yet support for the ever-smiling medical miracle that is Demba Ba will transcend well beyond that of the Toon Army. He, a rare commodity like the Usain Bolt’s and Sean O’Brien’s of this world, will be buoyed on by all. “Demba’s a brilliant footballer,” Alan Pardew says. “But his biggest asset is his personality, he’s a winner.”