Ba's departure ups the stakes for Pardew and struggling Newcastle

Sat, Jan 5, 2013, 00:00

SOCCER ANGLES: Not many clubs improve by selling their top striker. Just ask Arsenal, writes MICHAEL WALKER

There are some people on Tyneside who think Newcastle United are better off without Demba Ba, their top scorer. They say that Ba, for all his goals, is not worth the disruption he and his wage demands have caused at St James’ Park. They say having got Ba on a free transfer from relegated West Ham 18 months ago, to get around £5 million (€6.14m) for him now from Chelsea is good business.

The total fee is £7.5 million (€9.2m), but Ba has negotiated £2.5 million for himself and his agents apparently. So maybe those who view his departure as welcome have a point. And maybe the concerns about Ba’s knee injury, which is always referred to as chronic, will be justified at Stamford Bridge.

Maybe, too, Ba’s public desire to jump to around £80,000 (€98,000) per week in wages unsettled others on less, and there can be little criticism of clubs seeking ways to control their final salary bill.

But, as manager Alan Pardew has said in the past weeks when it appeared Ba was going to leave, the big striker will have to be replaced. That will cost money, possibly quite a lot.

Newcastle did spend a lump on a striker, and quite recently. He is Papiss Cisse, who cost £9 million (€11 million) when arriving from Freiburg last January.

In that sense Newcastle have a ready-made replacement for Ba and Cisse immediately reminded people of his talent when scoring against Everton on Wednesday night after 90 seconds. This was just hours after it was confirmed Ba was in formal talks with Chelsea.

The timing was neat. But Cisse, Newcastle’s number nine, was not centre forward. He was partnered up front by Shola Ameobi, who spent more time up the middle than Cisse.

Still, with a bit more luck and composure, Newcastle could have scored three or four against Everton, whose defence is not as strong as their attack.

Consecutive loss

But Newcastle lost 2-1, their third consecutive loss following the 7-3 at Arsenal and 4-3 at Manchester United. It left the Magpies’ recent run at nine defeats in their last 11 Premier League games. The two other results were victories over Wigan and QPR.

Those wins were at St James’ Park. An alarming statistic for Newcastle as they head to Brighton today in the FA Cup is they have not won away from home all season. To win today they must score and having managed that three times at both Arsenal and Old Trafford, they should be capable of doing so at Brighton, ninth in the Championship.

Ba got two of those goals against Arsenal, in what proved to be his last match in black and white. His season’s tally in the league became 13 goals in 19 starts. Only Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez have scored more. Ba has scored his in a struggling team, which presumably is why the European champions want to sign him.

Ameobi, meanwhile, has been in Newcastle’s first-team squad for 12 years and is yet to reach double figures for a Premier League season.

Yet if there is outrage on Tyneside, it is of a quiet variety. Even in defeat on Wednesday there were no catcalls. The fans know the club is dealing with an injury crisis and the Ba situation became tiresome.

They have also been here before. Andy Carroll was sold two Januarys ago – when there was an outcry – but Newcastle recovered and then sold Kevin Nolan as well.

They then got better, bought well – Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Ba – and qualified for Europe.

Wait-and-see policy

The France right back Mathieu Debuchy, who could easily play top-four football, has been added just as Ba left and so there is a wait-and-see policy from a fanbase that is more patient, or apathetic, or weary, than is usually painted.

Should new players join and this coincides with a return from injury of Cabaye and Steven Taylor, the second half of the season may yet be prosperous. But if not, then not retaining Ba could be seen as more expensive than meeting his wages. Not many clubs improve by selling their key striker. Ask Arsenal.

As Ba prepares to line-up for Chelsea at Southampton today, along the south coast Pardew faces a dilemma. While he does not want his club to go out of the FA Cup, next Saturday’s trip to Norwich City will already be occupying some thoughts.

Norwich are managed by Chris Hughton, of course, Pardew’s predecessor at St James’.

Newcastle’s other January league games are at home to Reading and Aston Villa away. They are three games from which Newcastle need to get points just to ensure this current downward spiral does not descend into an unseemly real relegation scramble.

January matters to Newcastle United. It has done before – Cisse came to the club 12 months ago and scored 13 goals in 13 starts.

This time it also matters, not least because of February. On February 2nd, Newcastle’s first match after the transfer window closes is against Chelsea. And their new striker, Demba Ba.

Loyal servant Lampard entitled to a new deal for his longevity and effectiveness

The arrival of Demba Ba at Stamford Bridge is another piece in the changing Chelsea jigsaw. Soon Frank Lampard will be a missing piece, just as Didier Drogba is. Presumably Ba fits a bit of the hole left by the big Ivorian.

The question on Lampard is: why? Why would any club let Frank Lampard leave? Lampard has one of the most consistently excellent English footballers over the past decade, a decade in which Chelsea have won three Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, two League Cups and the European Cup.

Lampard has been a cornerstone of that achievement. He will have been very well-remunerated for his loyalty but he has earned Chelsea plenty too. For him to be allowed leave in the summer, or be pushed this month from the club is surreal.

If the argument is that Lampard is 34, then the counter is that he is one young 34-year-old midfielder. Did none of the Chelsea hierarchy see his performance at Leeds a fortnight ago in the League Cup quarter-final, a game that meant something to both clubs? Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes must be in shock at the birth certificate assessment of Lampard. John Terry certainly is stunned; he waded in yesterday to say Chelsea should “retire the No 8 shirt” in honour of his mate “Lamps”.

Terry has form for going over the top. Surely a more rational method of honouring Lampard’s longevity, commitment and skill would be for Chelsea to give him a new contract, even for one year.

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