Rejection drives Demba Ba to secure rewards
Getting turned down by Gillingham and Barnsley fired the in-demand Newcastle striker's desire to shine in the Premier League, writes Martin Hardy
On the back of a noisy motorbike sat Demba Ba, arms locked around his brother, heading through Sèvres, on the outskirts of Paris. Five o'clock every Monday morning the routine would begin, in order to catch a train, and then a bus, to put in place the formative steps of a footballer's career.
It is where it started, and it feels apt. Ba's story is one of real hardship; a child with six brothers and sisters, whose parents divorced when he was young and whose mother had to fight to find the food to feed her family. A player who has walked through rejection with an unbreakable desire to prove wrong everyone – and there were plenty – who said he would not make it, that football was not his calling.
He calls it his faith, but it surpasses that. Ba, now 27, was 12 when he would go to Saint Valery en Caux, a football boarding school. He was 19 when he jumped into a car with three friends and set off for London.
There had been no call to join a professional football club. There had been a trial at Le Havre, but the answer was no. "No to no," Ba has said. Rejections would become more frequent. Lyons came next. And went. As did Auxerre.
The drive to London was for a trial with Barnsley. He trained with Watford for three days before heading north. There was no plan to stay anywhere. Without money, he slept on the floor of a friend of a friend, along with five other men, then got a coach to Yorkshire. Barnsley said no, that they had academy players of the same standard. That, to Ba, was enough.
"It meant they had the same quality as a player who grew up playing in amateur clubs in a small part of Paris," said Ba. "I said to my agent [Alexandre Gontrant] that night, 'If I have the chance to work how they are working, I am going to make it'. I took a positive from it. Of course, I was disappointed. I hadn't shown all of my quality, but I was happy. I knew then I had a chance.
"All the sacrifices I have made since I was young were not made for nothing. I will keep on making them. My family understand. Living on my own so young was normal to me. Only now do I know it is not because I have a child as well. I have made a lot of sacrifices and I am still making them now.
"When times get tough it is all about work. What does not kill you makes you stronger, that is right, but I want to add something to this, how hard you work will determine if you achieve anything. Without work you can have all the talent but it will come to nothing.
"Everything I have had in life I have worked for. I never got something for free. Even if today I could have a couple of things for free, I don't want them. I want to work and deserve them. I want to feed my hunger, exactly. I think you feel proud when you do something and you got it from your work. You feel pride. That is the feeling I want to have.
"I lived in hotels a long way from home but from the moment I said to myself I'm gonna be a footballer I did everything for it. That was when I was 16. From that time I just worked hard to achieve what I wanted to achieve. It's not because of one, two or three trials that didn't go well that I would quit."
Gillingham and Swansea turned Ba down. He spent five months at Watford. Amiens said no, before finally in 2005 Rouen put a player who started out as a defensive midfielder into their starting XI. He scored 22 goals in the new position of centre-forward and the rise since has been fairly meteoric. Ba is comfortably the most talked about player during every transfer window, by virtue of his £7.5m release clause, and the amount of goals he has scored since he moved to English football.
Even that bore what are the trademark complications of Ba's career. Stoke had agreed a £6.7m transfer from Hoffenheim in 2011, only to pull the plug late on because of concerns about a knee problem. When he was playing for Mouscron in Belgium in 2006, Ba fractured a tibia and fibula. He was out for eight months but when he underwent surgery, it is believed a nail was inserted into his tibia that touched a sensitive area of the knee when it was removed, leading to muscle damage. He had further surgery but the knee is now uninsurable.
Ba insisted it causes him no problem and his appearance record in English football is excellent. He has missed just four of the 58 Premier League games Newcastle have played since he moved to Tyneside from West Ham, in the summer of 2011, on a free transfer that was drawn out by the amount of people involved in the deal. In total it cost in the region of £5m for Newcastle to secure the services of a striker who has comfortably outperformed the player he effectively replaced in Andy Carroll.
Ba's was a deal Newcastle were never truly happy with. The release clause has been an endless problem. He has scored 36 Premier League goals for Newcastle and West Ham in just 66 games. It is an excellent record, and the price tag of £7.5m can be measured against the £17m West Ham will have to pay Liverpool in the summer to make Carroll's loan move at Upton Park permanent.
Alan Pardew, Newcastle's manager, said yesterday the odds about Ba staying were evens. He is an authoritative and powerful figure in the dressing room. Pardew understandably wants the player to stay. The list of potential suitors, in such stark contrast to much of his footballing life, is now great.
"My energy comes from my faith," he said. "Everybody has energy from somewhere, their family, their kids, some from their faith. I am one of them. I have always had that faith."
Which others now share.
Trials & tribulations: Ba's journey
* Demba Ba was turned down by eight clubs in France and England before signing for Rouen: Le Havre, Lyons, Auxerre, Swansea, Gillingham, Barnsley, Watford and Amiens.
* Ba's club career
2011 West Ham United
2011- Newcastle United
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