It is safe to say former Chelsea striker and Senegalese international Demba Ba is enjoying a new lease of life with Shanghai Shenhua.
After joining the Chinese Super League side this June, the Senegalese star made an immediate impact by dazzling the spectators through his unstoppable form. He broke his C League duck by sealing a famous 3-1 victory against nemesis Beijing Guoan before, once again, scoring the match-winning goal in a 2-0 away win at Chongqing Lifan. All the more impressive was his goalscoring rate in the Chinese FA Cup semi-finals. The 30-year-old completed a hat-trick as Shanghai edged Beijing Enterprises Group 3-2 in first leg at home, before managing a brace in the return leg as his side won 4-1 away and thus progressed to the final 7-3 on aggregate.
"It proves a good move (to China PR)," the towering forward, basking in the glory of earning Shanghai their return to the Cup final for the first time since 1998, told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "I think I have made the right decision. After playing for several European clubs including Chelsea I opted to come to Shanghai. I wanted to see new things here, to get to know the Chinese people."
Ba is the first Senegalese to play in the Chinese league and he is the third former Chelsea star to move to Shanghai with both Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka having had a one-year spell in China's biggest city three years ago. Like the former Chelsea duo, he is looking to help his new team with his experiences.
"I didn't come straight to Shanghai from Chelsea," Ba said, who spent the past season with Turkish giants Besiktas. "But I am happy to be here. It is a club with good players and the team chemistry is just right."
That said, Ba has discovered some difficulties in adapting to a new country and culture, despite his relatively smooth acclimatisation.
"When I played in Belgium, Germany and England, their cultures were similar, more or less, because these clubs are all in Europe. But here (in Asia) things are completely different. It is largely about respecting and following routes. People follow the same route, even when sometimes there are better routes."
A player who wears his heart his sleeve, Ba disputed over passing to one of his team-mates during the aforementioned cup first leg against Beijing. Having worked together in winning narrowly at home, though, they compromised and apologised to each other. With improved mutual understanding, they showcased better teamwork as Shanghai pulled off a resounding victory away in the return leg.
"Communication is important," he added. "There are always communicative problems when you play football. It is part of the game. It is a problem you need to solve. "
World Cup return
Senegal begin their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying next month, seeking their return to the global extravaganza, having stormed to the last eight in their only appearance at Korea/Japan 2002. For Ba, it is just the right time for his country to end their long wait to return to the global stage.
"This Senegal team are very hopeful. The team consists of players of good quality and the chemistry is good. I wish they achieve the best result (in qualifying campaign)."
Asked about his role in the Senegal team, Ba admits it is a question left for the boss to answer. "For me, I am always hoping to play for the national team. But at the moment, it is a question hard to answer," Ba said, who has scored four times from 19 international appearances for the country.
Awaiting Senegal in the opening qualifier is Madagascar, who saw off Central African Republic 5-2 over two legs to progress to the second stage. Ba warns that the opponents are no team to underestimate despite their 'minnows' status.
"They (Madagascar) may not be a well-known team on the international stage. But in Africa we should be careful with every team we play against. The fact is that even a small team can spring a surprise. Madagascar may not have famous star-players but we should be wary of their potential."