As Papiss Cissé’s wonder strike looped over Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, Facebook and Twitter was alight with fans and pundits alike heralding it as the goal of the season. To have the audacity, let alone the ability, to attempt a first-time, swerving volley from the left flank so late in a crucial game shows the confidence of a man who has bagged 13 goals in his last 12 games. Even Chelsea striker Didier Drogba applauded the goal that all but ended his team’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.
The estimated £10million transfer fee Newcastle United paid SC Freiburg for the 26-year-old Senegalese international is already looking like the bargain of the season, unless, of course, the free transfer of his teammate and fellow Senegalese striker Demba Ba is taken into consideration (it seems that Newcastle United Alan Pardew may soon steal Harry Redknapp’s apparently undesired ‘wheeler dealer’ tag). Particularly in the first half of the season, Ba terrorised opposition defences. He scored 14 goals in his first 17 Premier League games with the club, and although the goals are not currently flowing as freely as they were before, he is still performing well for a team on the verge of something very special. That Newcastle would achieve a top four finish was unthinkable at the start of the season, but thanks in part to Ba and Cissé’s phenomenal strike rate (they have scored 53% of Newcastle United’s Premier League goals this season), the Tyneside club, who were in the Championship just two years ago, are in with a very real chance of claiming 4th spot.
How different it could have been, though; the partnership of Ba and Cissé might never have existed. After an impressive stint at Bundesliga side Hoffenheim (where Ba scored 40 goals in 103 appearances) the German club agreed to sell the striker to Stoke City in January 2011 for a fee of around £7million. Personal terms had been agreed and it was only when Ba failed his medical that the move fell through, with Stoke City manager Tony Pulis subsequently describing the Senegal international’s knee as a ‘ticking time bomb’. In Stoke City’s defence, Ba had previously failed a medical at VfB Stuttgart in July 2009, presumably for the same reason. When the striker did eventually leave Hoffenheim, it was to soon-to-be-relegated West Ham on a pay-as-you-play basis, before Pardew signed him for Newcastle United on a three-year deal.
While Pulis insists he has no regrets about not signing Ba, he must surely be envious of the return Newcastle United have received for what might be seen as a risky investment.
Ahead of the match between the two teams on 21st April, Pulis (most likely through gritted teeth) said: “Both of them [Ba and Cissé] have done brilliantly, and good luck to them. I don’t wish them any harm at all – except for when we play against them.” Stoke City went on to lose the game 3-0, with Cissé scoring once and Ba providing an assist for Yohan Cabaye, who scored a double. If Ba’s knee is a ‘ticking time bomb’, then it seems his right foot could be described as, in the words of Alan Partridge, a traction engine.
No criticism should be directed at Stoke City’s medical team, who do a very thorough job, but for every goal Ba scores for their rivals, even every 90 minutes he completes, Stoke fans – and Pulis, certainly – must surely think of what might have been.