Senegal international Demba Ba has spent much of his Chelsea career squandering on the bench with his tail firmly tucked between his legs.
But the beautiful thing about football is that every dog has his day, and after netting winning strikes in his last two Chelsea appearances, could hound-dog retribution be just around the corner for Chelsea’s forgotten man?
Ba’s struggle at Stamford Bridge can be sourced to the fact no Chelsea manager would willingly claim direct ownership over him. He wasn’t a Rafa Benitez signing; the Spaniard’s position in West London was far too temporary for him to make permanent acquisitions of his own choosing.
Likewise, Mourinho inherited Ba. Despite the African striker’s 6 foot 2 build and proven potency in the Premier League, the Portuguese saw fit to call on the services of old ally Samuel Eto’o last summer, resulting in the former Magpies and West Ham forward making just four league starts this season.
Rather, Ba’s Stamford Bridge arrival is a by-product of the modern transfer model. Sourced to fill a purpose, as Daniel Sturridge made way for Anfield, in no small part due to his miserly £7million release clause, the Senegal star has slipped between the tectonic plates of the Chelsea squad, belonging to neither Mourinho nor Benitez, neither the old guard nor the budding youngsters breaking through, claiming a place in neither the club’s illustrious history nor their immediate future. In fact, Mourinho had initally planned loan him out to Arsenal for the year, before Romelu Lukaku opted for a season-long stay at Everton instead.
Accordingly, whilst the Special One continually moans about the inadequacies of his strike force, the fire-power Ba can provide has long been forgotten. It’s perhaps worth reminding that, prior to his West London spell, he had racked up an impressive return of 36 goals in 66 outings throughout his short Premier League career.
Indeed, for the Magpies, Ba was talismanic; his 16-goal haul in the 2011/2012 campaign fired the Tyneside club to Europa League qualification, whilst his ability to find the net from a variety of ranges, angles and situations was demonstrated on a weekly basis.
Chelsea have now reached the point where they require a drastic, unforeseen saviour if they’re to salvage something from their current campaign. Their Premier League title hunt is not completely dead – despite Mourinho’s insinuations otherwise – and the Blues also find themselves facing Atletico Madrid in a Champions League semi-final, surely entering the European tie as firm favourites. But if they’re to triumph on either front, then the Blues will have to find the one thing they’ve lacked all season – goals.
Defending is no problem, in fact, Chelsea boast the healthiest goals against column in the Premier League, 29, and of all the sides remaining in the Champions League, they are by far the most defensively-equipped. But just as with last season, the Blues have failed to translate control of matches into dominance of the score line, and should this persistent bad habit rear its head again between now and the end of May, then the chances of silverware can be kissed goodbye.
To make matters worse, top scorer Eden Hazard (17) could miss not only the Altetico clash but also a vital title decider with Liverpool through a calf injury picked up against PSG, Samuel Eto’o is yet to find the net since being abruptly stretchered-off against Arsenal, and Fernando Torres, well, from the outside it seems Mourinho has completely given up on him, and accordingly, the Spaniard has completely given up on Chelsea. He’s already looking forward to his summer holidays, and the prospect of joining a club where the mushroom shroud of a £50million price-tag isn’t still lingering over his head.
Resultantly, that leaves Demba Ba to pick up the pieces. He may not be the greatest striker to ever grace Stamford Bridge, in fact, considering Samuel Eto’o’s work-rate and eight goals this season, he’s not even the greatest striker in the current Chelsea squad.
But one thing is certain when it comes to the 28 year-old, as proved in his last two Chelsea outings; give him the ball near the box, and he’ll at the very least give the ‘keeper something challenging to think about. In fact, his 59% shot accuracy is on par with Samuel Eto’o’s, whilst considerably more than Fernando Torres, with 48%, and as previously mentioned, his strike-rate at Newcastle and West Ham was greater than one-in-two. Most impressively in terms of statistics, Ba dons a better goal-per-minute ratio, 1 every 92.5 minutes, in all competitions, than Premier League top-scorer Luis Suarez (1 every 99.6 minutes).
Furthermore, although the Senegal international’s contribution to build up play can leave a lot to be desired, his pace, power and height offers the Blues the route-one option that Eto’o and Torres can’t. Of all Chelsea’s strikers, Ba is the best equipped to handle the big, burly and organised Atletico backline, whom like the Blues, don the best defensive record in La Liga.
Ba is one of those strikers who only requires a half chance to score; a slither of a beneficial angle at goal, a snapped-in cross-shot from out wide, a goalmouth scramble, a pocket of space around the fringes of the penalty area. And although his all-round quality may not meet the standard Jose Mourinho constantly bemoans for, no one, even the Special One, can doubt the forward is more than capable of going on healthy goal-scoring run from now until the end of the season, providing he’s given ample opportunity to do so.
Demba Ba has spent the last 18 months of his life wondering why Chelsea bought him. Was it merely to keep Fernando Torres on his toes? Was it because he was so ridiculously cheap? Or was it simply because they could?
Now, as it fate had aligned, the Chelsea striker receives his answer. Already admitting he’ll seek pastures new this summer, whilst Mourinho longingly eyes Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa, Ba’s final days at Stamford Bridge could be his brightest.
Five goals between now and May, a target the Senegal star is more than capable of meeting, could result in a Premier League title, or a Champions League romping. One couldn’t ask for a better parting gift, and Chelsea’s forgotten man couldn’t ask for a better way to be remembered.