As a teenager Demba Ba took part in unsuccessful trials at Watford, Barnsley, Swansea City, Lyon and Auxerre, before FC Rouen, in France’s fourth division, finally took a gamble on his services. He spent a season there, scoring 22 goals in 26 games, then joined Mouscron in Belgium’s first tier. After 8 goals in 12 games 1899 Hoffenheim forked out €3m for him and his 12 goals in 30 games helped them gain promotion to the Bundesliga.
In July 2009, when Ba was 24-years-old, he tried to force a move away from 1899 Hoffenheim, the club he had joined two years earlier. VfB Stuttgart, who had just finished the season five points behind champions Wolfsburg, put in an offer for the striker which was rejected.
“For four or five months I have been mulling over leaving the club,” the player told Suddeutsche Zeitung. “Now I have made up my mind on that and I am certain on leaving Hoffenheim 1899. The offer that dropped in from Stuttgart only had a speeding effect on my decision. Hoffenheim told me they would not allow me to leave. But even though I am under contract for two more years at the club, I am absolutely in need of a change of environment right now.”
Hoffenheim then accepted a bid from Stuttgart, who had money to burn after the €30m sale of Mario Gomez to Bayern Munich, but the deal collapsed when Ba failed a medical.
Ba then had a change of heart, admitted he handled the situation badly and wanted to win back the trust of his club. He signed a contract extension with the club which was set to expire in 2013.
“I know I was wrong on certain things and I now know what Hoffenheim means to me and what Ralf Rangnick (manager) and Jan Schindelmeiser (general manager) have done for me,” he said. “I should not have gone to the media with my wish to secure a transfer away from the club. I know I have squandered trust, but I promise that I will give my best for the club. I want to let my performances and goals speak in my favour.”
Schindelmeiser accepted Ba’s apology but insisted that the player’s agent, Karim Akilil, was no longer welcome at the club.
“There are no differences that cannot be resolved,” he said. “I think Demba has learnt a lot from the whole story, although it would have been best had we not gone through it at all. Demba is still welcome, but his agent is not. He has disqualified himself with his dealings.”
Five months later, following 6 goals in 17 games for Hoffenheim, West Ham were keen to sign Ba on loan in a bid to get them away from the bottom of the Premier League. Avram Grant, West Ham’s manager at the time, wanted to bring the player on loan until the end of the season with a view to a permanent deal at the end of the season.
Hoffenheim flew to La Manga for a winter training camp but Ba wasn’t on the plane with them, sparking rumours that a deal was on the cards, but Ba’s lawyer, Ran Ronen, confirmed otherwise.
“Today he will fly to La Manga,” he said. “It does seem he could move and Demba would like to join a Premier League outfit, this is no secret. Joining West Ham? This is something I would put in doubt. I cannot say anything concrete, West Ham did come up with a bid, but at the moment Hoffenheim don’t appear to be working on it.”
The following day Hoffenheim’s general manager, Ernst Tanner, confirmed that Ba never arrived at the training camp.
“It is a fact, despite warnings from the executive board and despite my request, he has refused to come over to join us,” he told BILD. “Demba said he is not clear-headed at the moment. We have been spoken over three days about this, in between Christmas and New Year. I have told him now he will be facing legal consequences. He could either be facing a fine or even a termination with immediate effect -something that would ban him and not allow him to play for a new club for a while.”
Later that day, Ba arrived in London, but insisted that wasn’t refusing to return to Hoffenheim.
“I dont know what is happening,” he told Sky Sports News. “I am just keeping myself fit.”
Reports suggested that Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and Blackburn had all joined the chase to sign Ba, but his new representative, Habib Sissoko, confirmed that West Ham was the player’s club of choice.
“Hoffenheim have received offers from several clubs and now we are waiting for final deal,” he told Sky Sports News. “I think we are going to sort it out in a few days. It is not a secret, many clubs here want him. I will talk more in a couple of days, but Demba loves West Ham.”
Hoffenheim had yet to agree a deal with any Premier League club though and were furious that their player was missing from the La Manga training camp.
“Demba’s behaviour will definitely see us coming up with consequences,” Tanner told Deutsche Presseagentur. “He will be fined and have his contract terminated, but he will not be able to play for any other club. We cannot accept his doings with regard to our club, our fans and his team-mates. That’s a fact, he is acting on his own authority at the moment. We already had a situation with him in the past, he was also wanting to leave by all available means then. The manner Demba Ba is wanting to do it for a second time now, the way he is actually trying to pressurise his employer, is definitely unique in the whole Bundesliga.”
Ba was still determined to get his desired transfer though and reiterated this when speaking from London.
“All I know is my ambition is to play in the Premier League,” he told skysports.com. “If there is an opportunity I should take it and the club knows that.”
Ba then took to his own website to explain his situation in more detail and claimed that the club had gone back on their promises to allow him to leave.
“I know what I owe to TSG 1899. They brought me to Germany and they believed in my potential. They helped me improve and be a good player in the Bundesliga. For all of that, I thank them. I also know that, with my team-mates and the support of our fans, I had the chance to give back a lot to my club by scoring a lot of goals and being a major player in the good performance of the team. Today I am one of the oldest players in the team and, due to my seniority, I refuse to be treated like a mercenary or a capricious guy. I want to say that I regret this situation, and I suffer from it. The club gave me a green light to leave under certain conditions, which have been met; I hope that the promises made will be fulfilled. I just want to ask my club to be honest and to respect the green light that I was given.”
The following week, Stoke City had a £7.1m offer for the striker accepted and he travelled to the club to complete a medical. However, as had happened at Stuttgart 18 months earlier, he failed the medical.
“We’re obviously disappointed it’s broke down a little bit from the medical side,” said Stoke manager Tony Pulis. “We’d agreed personal terms with the club and personal terms with the player, it was all within our wage structure and what we could afford. We thought he’d be a very, very good player for us, very exciting but unfortunately at the moment there is a stumbling block on his medical so I don’t think it’s going to go through as we speak but who knows. I am desperately disappointed. You look at him and he has a tremendous scoring record. We have been over to watch him three or four times. Everyone has come back with good reports. But we have to put the club first and I understand that. As we have progressed as a club, the medical side has progressed as well. They take great responsibility and great care when they look at the players we are trying to bring in. The money involved is huge. Obviously they found something which could cause problems later.”
Days later, Pulis revealed that Stoke were still interested in signing the striker on loan, with Everton, West Brom and Sunderland now joining the chase too. However, it was West Ham who were eventually successful in agreeing terms with Hoffenheim for a loan deal.
After joining West Ham, Ba revealed that amongst other Premier League clubs, he also rejected a move to Rubin Kazan.
“Mr Tanner has ruined my image in the Bundesliga,” Ba told Sport Bild magazine. “I only heard these words: ‘Demba is only after money’. The truth is that I could have earned much more money elsewhere. I was presented with an offer from Rubin Kazan. They wanted to pay a €15m fee. I could have earned much more there than in West Ham. It’s not all about money for me.”
After scoring four goals in his first five appearances, including one against Stoke City, Ba revealed his happiness over the collapse of the move to the Britannia.
“I was a bit surprised that the move to Stoke fell through, but I wasn’t going to dwell on it,” Ba told the Sunday Mirror. “They had their reasons for pulling out and felt obligated to make those reasons public to explain why I hadn’t joined them. For me I just simply don’t dwell on bad news and move on swiftly. What is the point dwelling on it? Besides, moving to West Ham has been a blessing, I love it here. When you’re happy and playing with a smile on your face life doesn’t get much better. So in a way I’m glad the Stoke deal fell through because it enabled me to join this club instead.”
West Ham were relegated at the end of the season, despite 7 goals in 12 games for Ba, and the competition between clubs to bring him back to the Premier League was rife. West Ham reported Sunderland to the Premier League for allegedly tapping up the player, with Newcastle and Aston Villa also keen on signing him.
Ba eventually joined Newcastle on a free transfer after turning down a £50k-a-week contract offer from West Ham and reflected on his damaged knee which had prevented transfers for him in the past.
“People will talk about my knee all my life,” he said. “I will prove there is no problem by playing well and scoring goals. Let them talk. I am fit and healthy. I will let my football do the talking.”
Hoffenheim were still bitter about the way the striker had treated their club though and continued to criticise him a year after he left.
“We had no choice in his case back in January,” Tanner told BILD. “Initially we did not want to let him go, of course. Anyway it was him. He refused to continue with us then. It was him who flew to England without permission. The atmosphere was kind of like poisoned, you could not expect our team to put up with Demba Ba. We received a fee for him and we saved his expenses.”
After scoring 16 goals in 34 league appearances during his first season at the club, Ba was repeatedly linked with moves away from the club, although always insisted he was happy at Newcastle. However, last summer one of Ba’s agents, Alex Gontran, revealed the player was unhappy with how he was being treated by the club.
“Since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, Demba doesn’t understand the management,” said Gontran. “If he continues to be a substitute all season, we’ll look at other solutions. The choice to put Demba on the left last season was good for the club, because Cisse scored 13 goals, but there was a lack of recognition for Demba. It is more difficult to play well when you don’t have the confidence of your staff. How could you put your best striker with full confidence on the left wing?”
Alan Pardew dismissed talk of a rift between himself and Ba though, and claimed that he had received an apology for the comments made in the press by Gontran.
Ba was named in the shortlist for African Player of the Year, alongside the likes of Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba, and Newcastle were keen to renegotiate his contract before the January transfer window. Whilst the contract didn’t expire until 2014, Newcastle wanted to get rid of a clause which would allow Ba to leave on the cheap.
The club couldn’t convince the player to commit his long-term future and when the transfer window opened Chelsea put in a bid of £7.5m to trigger his release clause, seeing his football journey take him from the fourth tier of French football to the champions of Europe.
“When the club who won the Champions League wants you, the decision is very easy,” Ba said. “This club is massive and that’s something that helped the decision a lot. It was not a hard one. This club is at another level – it isn’t West Ham or Newcastle. They are both big clubs with a strong history, but Chelsea is Chelsea and you cannot compare.”