The opening salvo’s of the January transfer window have already been fired with confirmation of two of the worst kept secrets in the EPL, namely Daniel Sturridge leaving Chelsea for Liverpool and Demba Ba jumping ship at Newcastle to join anyone that would pay enough cash! But who will be toasting the better deal?
For the purpose of this blog we’ll accept the reported fees of £12M for Sturridge and £7M for Ba. There can be little doubt that, on paper at least, Chelsea have acquired a more prolific striker for a fraction over half the price they sold Sturridge for. Since arriving in English football 3yrs ago Ba has averaged more than a goal every two games for West Ham Utd and Newcastle Utd, scoring 36 EPL goals in 66 appearances. Sturridge on the other hand averages just about a goal every four games, netting 26 times in his 96 EPL appearances.
But those basic statistics do not perhaps tell the whole story because Ba and Sturridge are at radically different stages in their respective careers. 27yr old Demba Ba is an established international striker for Senegal, he has seemingly overcome a serious knee injury that scuppered an earlier move to Stoke City to perform reasonably consistently for Newcastle and his fine form has finally earned a move to the current, if already deposed, European Champions. Ba ought to be entering his prime as a professional player and, if he remains free from injury, could prove to be an extremely shrewd £7M investment.
Liverpool have banked on 23yr old Daniel Sturridge finally fulfilling a rich potential that has been evident, albeit sporadically, since his breakthrough at Man City back in 2006. A potential that convinced Chelsea to agree to a tribunal-set fee rising to some £6.75M to prise him away from City in 2009….despite the fact he was out-of-contract! A loan spell to Bolton Wanderers kick-started Sturridge’s career – 8 goals in just 12 EPL appearances – and a reinvigorated Sturridge continued to progress on his return to Stamford Bridge, amassing a creditable return of 11 goals in 30 appearances. But Sturridge’s career has unquestionably stalled at Chelsea; his path to the first-team blocked by former-talisman Didier Drogba, the untouchable Fernando Torres – look what happened to Roberto di Matteo when he dared to drop Torres – and the exciting midfield additions of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard. Rarely given a consistent run of games, often played in a wider role than he would ideally like? Perhaps. But the impression is that Sturridge has patently failed to rise to the challenge of competition at Chelsea
Where these two signings share a common ground though is the perception that they boast a poor attitude, a disruptive streak and a perception that they elevate themselves above their actual merit. Demba Ba was all singing and dancing as the focal point of the Newcastle attack….and then international colleague Papiss Cisse arrived on the scene! Ba’s nose was put seriously out of joint and the contents of his pram strewn all across the North-East as he was forced to share the billing with his £10M partner; an unwanted positional move to the left of Newcastle’s front-three greeted with all the enthusiasm of a spoilt brat, his bottom lip ploughing a lonely furrow on the wing as he sulked his way through the second half of the season. A season in which Ba plundered an impressive 15 EPL goals before January saw him net just once after Cisse sauntered into St James Park!
And so Ba and his representatives responded to the challenge laid down by Cisse and manager Alan Pardew in the professional manner that always warms the heart; namely by touting themselves the length and breadth of the UK and across Europe like a cheap whore in the Christmas sales! Okay they had been trying to engineer a move away pretty much as soon as Ba had been fitted with his black and white kit, but the shocking revelation that a £7M release clause existed in his Newcastle contract which had somehow become public knowledge made his departure from Tyneside inevitable. A friend of mine likened Ba to former EPL mercenary Nicolas Anelka, albeit a far less talented version of the nomadic Frenchman. Anelka would invariably explode onto the scene at a new club, but the rumblings of discontent were never far from the surface as he/his representatives – including his brother – almost constantly persisted in blatantly trying to secure another transfer coupled with their next big pay cheque. Only towards the end of his career did Anelka settle at a club beyond the customary 2-3yrs before heading off for a lucrative retirement in China. Is Ba following the same path? If his reaction to Cisse’s arrival was so poor and his performances so lethargic when asked to play out-of-position, is his response likely to be any less disruptive when confronted with the immovable Fernando Torres occupying the traditional ‘number nine’ role and the possible early return of Romelu Lukaku? And what about the knee injury and the likelihood of Chelsea risking such an outlay on a player that cannot be insured in the normal way?
Daniel Sturridge has demonstrated a less obvious disruptive and egotistical streak, but I certainly get the impression that he has ideas way above his station. You cannot fall out with so many managerial personalities and coaching styles, as Sturridge has done throughout his short career to date, without there being some severe question-marks over your own attitude, behaviour and application. Rumours of his insistence that he plays centrally for Liverpool – rumours which were of course denied – does not bode well, nor does a reported £70,000 salary package for a player who, despite his four questionably deserved England caps, has actually achieved precious little in his career thus far. Luis Suarez is undoubtedly – and fully deservedly – the main man at Anfield and it will be interesting to see how Sturridge’s attitude and ego cope with that situation? Brendan Rodgers appears to have pre-empted any delusions of grandeur by publicly slapping Sturridge down almost immediately; suggesting pointedly that he cannot trade on ‘potential’ forever and that this is his last chance to prove himself at EPL level!
Ba and Sturridge have much to prove at their new clubs. Ba ought to relish the opportunity to perform for a club of Chelsea’s current stature – although the motivation behind the transfer is largely money-orientated – whilst Sturridge ought to be energised by the challenge presented in re-establishing Liverpool as an EPL force. Yet both carry mental baggage and it’ll be interesting to see how they adapt and react when things aren’t going their way….