The road to success has not always been smooth for Senegalese international Demba Ba. But through a combination of raw talent and determination, the striker finally seems to have reached the top and is poised to lead his side’s attack at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
The sixth of seven children, Ba was born in Sevres in the Parisian suburbs and grew up in Le Havre, where he would cross paths with fellow emerging Senegalese talents Mamadou Niang and Souleymane Diawara. “It’s true that I had the privilege of being around them when I was young,” Ba told FIFA.com. “My older brother, a basketball player, was friends with them. It’s still a great pleasure for me to play alongside them now.”
Unlike his compatriots, who benefited from attending Le Havre’s youth academy, Ba learned the ropes with amateur side Montrouge in the Paris suburbs and followed an altogether more laborious route to the summit. “I had everything I needed to succeed,” said the 26-year-old, who had trials at Auxerre, Lyon, Watford, Barnsley and Amiens between 2004 and 2005. “It just took time. The time I needed to get to where I am today.”
It was Rouen, a third-tier French side, who eventually gave Ba his chance at the age of 20. A return of seven goals in 32 matches earned him a move to Mouscron in the Belgian top flight, where, despite enduring an eight-month injury lay-off, he scored eight times in 12 outings. This form in turn helped secure a switch to Hoffenheim in 2007, a town with 3,300 inhabitants whose team were second-bottom of the German second division at the time.
Ba made a prolific start to his career in Germany, scoring 12 goals in his first season and earning his first international cap in June 2007. He scored on his Senegal debut in a Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania, while his goals at club level helped fire Hoffenheim to an unlikely promotion to the Bundesliga. In the process, Hoffenheim became the smallest town to have a team reach the German top flight. The Baden-Wurttemberg outfit finished seventh in their debut campaign and 11th the season after, with Ba’s 25 goals in 67 appearances helping them establish a strong foothold in the league.
The Senegalese was soon on the move again, joining West Ham in the winter of 2010. His seven goals in 12 appearances were not enough to save the Hammers from relegation, but they did catch the eye of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew and a move to the north-east quickly followed. Ba has since made a blistering start to his career with the Magpies, scoring 15 times in 19 matches to date.
“I’m aware of the journey I’ve made,” said Ba, who is currently second in the Premier League scoring charts, just three strikes behind Robin van Persie. “I’ve now got the chance to express myself, to do what I’ve always wanted to do in my life, and I make the most of it every day.
“I’m not really surprised; I know I’m capable of playing well, as I’ve managed to do in the first half of the season,” continued Ba. “It’s more than a surprise – it’s a feeling of pride to be so high in the scoring charts alongside quality forwards like Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Robin van Persie.”
Setting the Ba high
Newcastle lie sixth in the Premier League table, but they will have to make do without their leading scorer for the next few weeks while he represents Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. Ba is certainly not short of competition up front, with Niang, reigning Ligue 1 top scorer Moussa Sow and his new Newcastle team-mate Papiss Cisse, second top scorer in last season’s Bundesliga behind Mario Gomez, all vying for starting berths.
“Everyone wants a starting role, but honestly, if that chance falls to another player, we’ll be happy for him and give him our full support,” said Ba, who scored the only goal in Senegal’s friendly win over Sudan on 12 January. “We’ve been preparing for this competition for two years. We’re a group of friends and most of us have known each other for a very long time. The good mood in our team will help us go far.”
“Personally, I just want to carry on in this vein and win titles,” added Ba, just hours ahead of his first ever Cup of Nations. “That, after all, is the ultimate goal when you play football.”