Snaffling Demba Ba from Newcastle makes perfect sense for Chelsea. After watching Fernando Torres slip, stumble and scuff his way through another afternoon, attacking the Everton defence with all the potency of an old lady in Ugg boots two sizes too large, Roman Abramovich must surely have snapped. It’s been two years since he dropped the price of a decent space programme on the timorous Spaniard and it’s still not happening. Ba might not sell many t-shirts, but he can at least be counted on to receive the ball in the box without blushing and falling over. But interestingly, selling Ba makes perfect sense for Newcastle too.
This has been an odd season for the Magpies. While few on Tyneside expected a repeat of that extraordinary 5th place finish, no-one thought that they would end 2012 just three points above the drop-zone either. There is no simple explanation for the slump. This is a failure with many fathers.
There was no way that this squad should have been expected to sustain a European campaign. It was barely big enough to cope with last season’s Premier League, as we saw when they went to Norwich last December with James Perch (5ft 11) and Danny Simpson (5ft 9) as centre-backs. Instead of buying players who could supplement what they already had, like Vurnon Anita, they should have bought players who were better than they already had.
Far more damaging was the failure to realise what a successful season would do to the existing playing staff. Heads have been turned since the last campaign ended. Cheick Tiote, for example, has clearly been reading his own press. The Ivorian’s strength last season was that he could capture the ball, usually with extreme prejudice, and then pass it on to someone better. Now, he seems to believe that he can play and does so with hilarious consequences. The full-backs, Davide Santon and Simpson, have regressed badly as well. Factor in the injury to Yohan Cabaye and you can see why Newcastle have slipped.
But it’s up front where the purpose of last season, the first half at least, has been replaced by uncomfortable compromise. Ba and Cisse cannot play as a pair, not least because Newcastle like to have three across the middle these days. When Cisse led the line, Ba toiled miserably on the flank. Now that Ba has the vanguard, it is Cisse who treads the touchline so mournfully.
Cisse is, for want of a better phrase, a goal-muncher. Like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ruud van Nistelrooy, he is one of those special people for whom ‘defensive duties’ seem a little pointless. Put Cisse up front, leave him up front, and he will score goals. Put him on the right, even with the caveat of allowing him to push up and slide in when the team has possession, and he’ll cut a sad little figure.
Ba is a popular figure with the press in the North-East. He’s honest, polite and approachable, but it’s an open secret that his representatives have been pimping him out almost since his first day at the club. Alan Pardew has insisted that he wants to retain his man, but there must be a part of him that would be glad to be rid of the constant uncertainty. As long as the £7m release clause is thrown immediately at a replacement, losing Ba would be no great disaster. Especially as it would free up Cisse.
Cisse is a predator. Sticking him out wide is like slapping a great white shark in the middle of the Serengeti and then wondering why it isn’t catching any antelopes. Newcastle United will not shrivel up and die if Ba leaves. They’ll adjust and move on, and they may even be better off without the constant distraction. They should let him go.