By Drew Farmer
Senegal’s Demba Ba is facing possible retirement from soccer after breaking his leg in a Chinese Super League match between club sides Shanghai Shenhua and derby rivals Shanghai SIPG. The striker was taken in the 70th minute after he came together with SIPG defender Sun Xiang. Both players tumbled to the turf, yet Ba’s foot caught in the playing surface as he spun and fell.
Ba has been playing for Shanghai Shenhua for the last 12 months, and was the league’s leading scorer with 14 goals in 18 games. Shenhua currently sits in fifth place in the CSL, and is just two points behind city rivals SIPG.
For the most part, Ba’s professional soccer career began at German club Hoffenheim, who was playing in the Bundesliga 2 at the time. The Germans paid £2.5 million for Ba’s services from the small Belgian club Mouscron. Ba’s goal scoring exploits led Hoffenheim into the Bundesliga. From there, his goals kept the humble German team in the top flight. In nearly 100 games, Ba scored 37 goals, making a name for himself that saw several clubs pursue his signature.
Ba’s career took a strange twist, a knee problem prevented him from passing his medical tests. A £7m deal to Stoke City in the English Premier League fell through, leaving Ba in limbo. He would later join West Ham United, playing on a pay-as-you-play contract thanks to his knee. In just a half a season, Ba registered seven goals in 12 games, making Stoke and others feel silly they hadn’t taken a chance on the Senegalese international. Unfortunately for Ba, West Ham was relegated at the end of the season.
In the summer of 2011, Ba arrived at St. James’ Park, signing a three-year contract with Newcastle United. Again he excelled, this time on a bigger stage. His first season saw 16 goals in 34 matches followed by a scintillating start to the 2012 season, scoring 13 goals in 20 games. His form at the beginning of the 2012-13 English Premier League season convinced Chelsea to part with £12.5m to sign him.
Although there were flashes of brilliance at the West London club, Ba failed to set the team on fire, and departed after 18 months. In all, Ba played 39 times for Chelsea, tallying 10 goals. A stop off in Turkey was next with Besiktas where he played 37 times, scoring 23 goals. It was in Turkey that Ba rediscovered the form that had escaped him at Chelsea.
When the deal from China came through in the summer of 2015, however, it was the start of the CSL’s current spending spree. The top flight of Chinese soccer has been snapping up players left and right, overspending in its efforts to increase the appeal of the CSL. Shenhua paid £8.5m for him, and since the move, the 31-year-old has been in outstanding form.
Shenhua coaches fear that Ba may never play again after his horrific injury. Shenhua coach Gregorio Manzano stated, “It could end his professional career.” Manzano could be right. However, he doesn’t realise Ba is a fighter.
At one time, 14 professional clubs in Europe passed on his services. Whether it was his knee or another problem, Ba was turned away over a dozen times. This is Ba’s biggest hurdle to overcome, however. If Ba does return, it won’t be until next season, and the Shenhua faithful will be ready with open arms when he does.