NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 17: Newcastle forward Demba Ba gets in a shot during the Barclays Premier league game between Newcastle United and Swansea City at St James' Park on December 17, 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Today's transfer rumor takes an introspective turn as we consider the case of one Demba Ba, Newcastle's 27 year-old striker. Ba was sort of famously brought in as a free transfer last summer after he had spent the final 12 games of the season with West Ham United scoring 7 goals, an impressive number indeed. The story, however, was his injury history and the "ticking time bomb" that was/is his knee, which previously caused him to fail two medicals prior to transfers and was the chief reason the Hammers were letting him walk. So prevalent were his injury concerns that the Toon Army basically refused to acknowledge Ba's presence, choosing instead to spend the morning of September 1 (and several days following) whinging about the front office's stark refusal to buy a striker over the summer. Ba, of course, after a slow start that many attribute to his adherence to fasting rituals during the month of Ramadan, went on a goal-scoring tear, earning Player of the Month honors in December and causing many to call for him to drop the 1 off of his shirt.
The second half of the season was not as kind to Demba, as he returned from the Africa Cup of Nations with a new teammate and eventual folk hero in tow. The time spent away from club, along with a new role in a new formation and, frankly, decreased expectations, cooled him off. It got to the point that his body language was being analyzed following every Papiss Cisse goal, as amateur psychologists posited that perhaps he wasn't so happy to not have the burden to score all to himself anymore. Ridiculous as it sounds, the scoring drought was visibly affecting him, and his scoring chances became battles against self as well as opponent.
The popular narrative that accompanies any "Demba Ba wants out of Newcastle" story directly deals with the Demba vs. Demba struggle, however real or imagined it might be. The more restrained journalists stop short of labeling Ba jealous, a touch I'm sure he appreciates. There are other little intangibles that conspiracy theorists point to when they make the case that he's as good as gone, but for every complaint about the cold in the North East during an interview, there's the fond anecdote about his French-speaking friends in the dressing room, for example.
Of course, the real story here is about the rumored £7 million release clause, a fact that's never been confirmed by any Newcastle official, but more conspicuously, one that's never been denied either. Otherwise known as "The Thing Harry Redknapp Wouldn't Shut Up About Last January," the release clause supposedly takes the decision of whether or not to sell out of Newcastle's hands as long as the buyer meets the amount, rendering any discussion about his current market value relatively moot. In this case, the questions surrounding Ba's injury-prone knee and his late-season form actually work in Newcastle's favor a bit, assuming they believe he can still contribute to the club.
There will still be plenty of interest, especially late in the window as various transfer plans fall through for other clubs. Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur are the main teams connected with Ba, though the purchase of Hulk would seem to make Ba less of a priority for Chelsea. It's generally accepted that the most likely destination is Spurs, mostly because of 'Arry's loud mouth. (The fact that they can offer a much more competitive wage may have something to do with it as well.) Whomever ends up with Ba will possess a proven goalscorer with tons of strength, a powerful right foot, and a willingness to do work in the trenches. Lost in all of the jealousy and drought talk was the work Ba put in away from the mouth of goal, often setting up Cisse with a complementary run that distracted defenders or even a cross himself. They'll also inherit a bit of a problem, as Demba will surely be involved in both the Olympics and the Africa Cup of Nations. I'm certainly not going to take the step of trying to convince myself or others that his seemingly eventual departure is a net positive, but there's no denying that Ba's participation in international competition while the season is ongoing is something of a headache.
If it sounds like I'm eulogizing the player before he's gone, it's because it seems like there's little to no hope that he will stay. Graham Carr has been openly scouting Ba replacements for several months now, and every day a new name emerges. The contingency plan for Demba Ba's departure is constantly on the verge of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (not that I'm upset that they're actually planning ahead, a new and welcome development for sure). The whole thing could be avoided if they would simply renegotiate his contract, but that isn't the new Newcastle way.
Personally, I would be ecstatic if the Toon found a way to ward off all advances and keep him around. As I alluded to earlier, he has established chemistry with several of the existing players, not the least of which is the man that (sort of) shares his name. On top of that, seven million pounds isn't exactly going to buy a whole lot of shiny new toys. I am resigned to the likelihood that we've seen the last of Demba Ba in black and white stripes. If he must leave, I hope he goes to Arsenal and scores tons of goals against Spurs, simply because Redknapp took it upon himself to not rest until he was able to personally visit every man, woman, and child in the Greater London area and make them aware of the release clause. (And now Beetlejuice appears.) At least we'll always have strawberry syrup.