It’s amazing how two people, entirely unconnected and from completely different starting points in life, can follow such similar paths to a common point. That is exactly what has happened with Newcastle United’s new Senegalese strike duo, Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse.
Born just a week apart, but on opposite sides of the world, their lives have run almost in tandem, slowly edging towards each other from 2,500 miles away, culminating in an embrace after Cisse scored on his Magpies debut. Both, however, had to fight through their own hardships to reach this point of coalescence, learning their craft in France, making their names in Germany and eventually uniting on Tyneside. FIFA.com looks back on the their journeys.
French and German stop-offs
Born and raised in Dakar, Cisse was a regular child from a large family, playing football in the streets from an early age. While well-schooled, his background was by no means affluent and he had to wait until joining a local academy before owning his first pair of boots.
Having impressed in his first season at Douanes Dakar, he was snapped up by French top-flight side Metz. As the club yo-yoed between Ligue 1 and 2, he fluctuated between spells on loan and time with his parent club. When given the consistency of Les Grenats, the goals flowed - he was also on target on his Senegal debut - and it was enough for the 23-year-old Cisse to be plucked from the second tier by Bundesliga side Freiburg.
Despite finding success in Europe, he hasn’t forgotten where he has come from and helps support a massive extended family back home. “I’m the only one who has the opportunity to help my family financially," explained Cisse. "I have 65-70 relatives in Casamance in south Senegal. What should I do?
“I have learnt to play football, so I can help now. I built the family a large house, I support the purchase of food and electricity, and especially help out when someone is sick.”
Ba, by contrast, was born in the Parisian suburb of Sevres, the sixth of seven children to Senegalese immigrants. He feels, despite the geographical separation, he and Cisse had a similar upbringing: “We're from the same country, we live the same way as well. Both of our parents are from Senegal, even though I grew up in France, I always lived like I was in Senegal.”
Ba's talent was quickly apparent and he joined his first academy in Le Havre at the age of seven, operating as a defensive midfielder initially, but suffered rejection from a succession of clubs. He eventually gained his footing at French fourth-tier side Rouen, starting his journey to the upper echelons of football from the bottom.
Ba told FIFA.com that even though his beginnings were humble, he knew he possessed the ability to make it: “I had everything I needed to succeed, it just took time. The time I needed to get to where I am today.”
Cisse may have already made a fleeting appearance in Ligue 1, but after a prolific season Ba’s talents were beginning to register, being taken to the Belgian top division with Mouscron. He started well, but a nasty double leg break for the then 21-year-old put him out of the game for eight months. On returning, though, the goals began to flow again, earning him his first Senegal cap – along with a debut goal – and his move to Hoffenheim in the German second tier.
Ba settled well and helped them to promotion during his first season in Germany, before flourishing in the Bundesliga. Hoffenheim exceeded expectations by finishing sixth, with Ba’s 14 goals attracting the interest of Stuttgart. However, a failed medical and a season disrupted by injury made the 2009/10 season much less fruitful.
Cisse arrived in the January of that campaign for €1.5m, having “wanted to play in Germany at all costs”. He slotted in well, scoring a brace in Freiburg’s final match against Borussia Dortmund to mark successfully escaping relegation.
The following season he began to blossom majestically, his stock rising dramatically in the league just as Ba’s was falling. Cisse would go on to break Tony Yeboah’s record for an African in Germany by netting 22 times in the league, finishing second behind leading marksman Mario Gomez. Fittingly, one of these goals would come in the only time the Senegalese pair have faced off, as Freiburg beat Hoffenheim 1-0 in one of Ba’s final games.
Ba was destined for the Premier League following an ignominious fall-out with Hoffenheim’s hierarchy, but not without more rejection beforehand. With almost all the details ironed out he was set for a £7m move to Stoke City, but another failed medical – relating to a knee problem dating back to surgery on his broken leg – saw him shot down again. West Ham United nonetheless sealed a last-minute agreement to save him from potential isolation in Germany.
Half a season in London was enough to tempt Newcastle into bringing the 6ft 2ins striker north, having scored ten in 12 games for the Hammers. Ba has has been an instant success, scoring 16 times so far this season, including two hat-tricks. Manager Alan Pardew admitted that had he known Ba would make such a stunning impact, he would have been handed the club's hallowed No9 jersey instead of the No19. The former shirt went to Cisse when he joined from Freiburg for an undisclosed fee in January
“I have been told all about Alan Shearer, and of course I know what a good player he was for England too," said Cisse. "There are others too, and I know what a special number it is and how privileged I am to be wearing it.”
After a disappointing trip to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where Senegal lost all three of their group games, the pair made their first-ever club appearance alongside one another against Aston Villa. Coming on as substitute, Cisse marked his first showing in front of the fans with a stunning left-footed volley, adding to Ba’s opener in a 2-1 win.
It was the moment their 26-year journeys through life and club football finally coincided. Newcastle fans will be hoping it was a sign of what’s to come from their Senegalese tandem.