The rise of Demba Ba has been anything but meteoric. That would imply that Ba came from no where, and that his rise has been instantaneous.
Ba, a French-born Senegalese striker currently representing Senegal at the African Cup of Nations, has spent the better part of the last decade fighting for a way to get a club to let him on the training pitch. He has had unsuccessful trials at Olympique Lyon, AJ Auxerre, and League One side Barnsley before finally getting his chance at Watford, only to be freezed out of the squad by manager Aiyd Boothroyd, who informed Ba that there would be no place for him in the first team.
Ba never put his head down. Despite these tough moments, Demba Ba was determined to be a professional footballer in Europe. He wanted to make his dreams come true, and he eventually was signed by a French third division club Rouen. A successful season with Rouen saw him claim 22 goals from 26 appearances and once again got him back on the radar of potential suitors. Ba secured a move to Belgian side Mouscron in 2006, but suffered a terrible leg break. He made a wonderful recovery from a broken tibia and fibula, and went on to score 8 goals for the club that season, also earning his first cap for Senegal.
In 2007, Ba joined 1899 Hoffenheim for €3 million and was an major factor in the squad earning promotion to the Bundesliga in 2008. He went on to lead the club to a seventh place finish in their first season in the Bundesliga. Ba scored 37 goals for Hoffenheim, before demanding a move to England after promises were not fulfilled on his contract. Ba was all ready to sign for Stoke City in the January transfer window of 2011, but shockingly failed a medical in which Tony Pulis described his knee as a “ticking time bomb that could go at any moment.”
Demba responds: ”My life, your life and the life of everybody is a ticking time bomb. I mean, you never know when you’re gonna go. So everyone’s a ticking time bomb. My right knee [could be] as much of a ticking time bomb as my left knee. You never know, tomorrow I could step on the pitch and get injured. You never know what’s gonna happen. Things go ‘today, I’m fit, I’m working.’ I will just say that’s all for me: no ticking time bomb, just life." Newcastle United snapped him up on a free transfer this past summer.
Demba Ba is a fighter. His talent was never instantly recognized, and hardly appreciated during all those years in the game. He did not let that deter him. He believed in himself, he was confident in his ability to work hard and be rewarded. “You only get what you deserve in life, and if I have it today, it is because I deserve it," says Ba. Whether it’s working out in the weight room to deal with Premier League defenders or working on his movement off the ball as a striker, Ba is constantly finding ways to improve each day. In that way, he finds his fulfillment in football.
Ba is focused. He has a mature understanding of the game that not many strikers possess. Even the most talented players fail to understand the mental exercise that is also involved in being a professional footballer. Ba is able to play to the best of his ability because he is able to master himself as a person, and not just a footballer. Ba has respect for the game, which is a trait that is dwindling in the world today. There are many young players out there that play the game for the flashing lights, big paychecks, and the model girlfriends. Ba seems to treat football as one would treat a true profession. He has a love for his trade. He watches football. He loves to watch himself play, and is very critical of himself because he wants to reach perfection. He is a student of the game. “You can always learn,” he says. “When you watch football, you can always learn… I just want to reach perfection, I know no one can reach perfection, but… I just want to come close to it. I want to look at the good things I’m doing, to reproduce them, and I want to look at the bad things I’m doing and change them. So I just watch myself because I want to get better, but also because I want to enjoy it. For me, that’s part of my work.”
With character like this, I would sign Demba Ba if he didn’t have any legs at all. He would find a way to compete. A demeanor like his will always produce a winner, and more than likely breed a champion.
I wish the best of luck to Demba Ba, and with writing this piece I have discovered a new favorite of mine among footballers. It’s not often the most talented players are the best. There are many instances that prove the mental approach to the game is far more potent than physical ability. This is why Manchester City could never beat FC Barcelona. This is why the short, sweet, placed pass will always yield better results than the booted long ball. This is why the team who moves as one, working hard off the ball, will always win. This is why Mario Balloteli’s will always get red carded.
Demba Ba is an example of how intelligence in football that is hardly appreciated by the mainstream press. Intelligence is something stats can’t prove. It’s harder to learn than a free kick. At the heart of every great team, there is always an engine that understands all the other moving parts on the pitch. The better the team, the more the engines are capable of understanding each other. It’s improbable to believe that Demba Ba’s attitude has failed to rub off on his Newcastle teammates. Newcastle are currently in 6th place in the Premier League table, and were as high as 2nd place in October. It’s clear now that Newcastle miss their Senegalese striker with that 5-2 thumping at Craven Cottage where they conceded 5 second half goals in a game that they lead at half time.
At the age of 26, Demba Ba is a player to watch. I’m not the only one who wishes they’d seen him earlier. Know Your Football New Haven wishes Demba Ba the best of luck in the English Premier League, and African Cup of Nations this year. We hope he gets his 19 goals, and finds an incredible way to celebrate.