One of the most frequently mentioned names appearing in the transfer gossip columns over the past few months has been that of Newcastle United striker Demba Ba, with a well-publicised release clause—along with his stack of Premier League goals—looking a big lure for opposition clubs.
According to the Daily Mail, Ba has been linked with a transfer to the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, QPR and Chelsea in the Premier League, though he has also been said to be interested in a move to Paris St. Germain (the Metro). Spurs are another club who retain an interest.
In the midst of all this transfer discussion, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has today admitted that he wants his star striker to sign a new contract with the club and put an end to the speculation.
Via the BBC, Pardew has acknowledged that Ba could well leave in January when the transfer window reopens, but that if he stays and commits his future to the club then the new deal would not include the release fee, said to be around £7 million.
Ba originally came to the Premier League in the 2010-11 season when he joined West Ham United midway through the campaign. Despite scoring seven goals in 12 league games he was unable to help the Hammers stay up and was released on a free transfer as per an agreement when he joined the club.
With some teams hesitant about signing him because of uncertainty surrounding the long-term health of his knee, Newcastle took the splash after failing to land other top targets to replace Andy Carroll, who left for Liverpool at the same time as Ba joined West Ham.
In his first full season in the English top flight, Ba netted 16 goals in 34 matches despite failing to hit the back of the net from the second week in February until the end of the season.
Indeed, Ba's 16 league goals all came within a 16-game spell from September to February, which was enough to see him as Newcastle's top scorer for the season.
The signing of Papiss Cisse pushed Ba to a supporting role at times which limited his effectiveness. But this season he has rediscovered his scoring touch to hit 11 goals in 19 appearances.
By contrast, Cisse scored 13 goals during the second half of last season—but has managed only three in 17 games this term. It has very much been a case of one or the other for Pardew, who has been unable to get the best out of both his strikers at the same time.
Now aged 27, Ba is at the peak of his powers by conventional agreement. He needs to decide for himself whether he is in a good enough place in his career to move on to a bigger club and still score the goals to be a success—or whether he has found his "home" in Newcastle, and should sign a new deal and settle down as the club's main striker.
A move to the likes of PSG or Chelsea might net him the biggest contract of his career and the chance to play in the UEFA Champions League, but will he be a star or a squad player?
Certainly, it seems unlikely that Ba would get in the side ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and even the perceived-under-performing Fernando Torres still has 14 goals for the season, three more than the in-demand Ba.
Of course, Torres is playing with players of far superior quality behind him than the likes of James Perch or Gael Bigirimana, but the point remains.
For sure, there are teams out there who need a striker to come in, play regularly and score goals.
Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers and Arsenal can all be included in that category for differing reasons.
Any of the three should easily have the funds to complete the deal, given the seemingly guaranteed goals he would bring for a pretty low-cost outlay. Exactly what wages he would require might be a different matter of course.
At Newcastle Ba already has the backing of the fans, a large base of French-speaking teammates who are clearly comfortable playing with each other and a club which seem set for trying to improve year on year, as evidenced by the long-term contract given to the manager.
Where will Demba Ba be playing his football in February 2013?
Signing a new deal would likely significantly increase his wage anyway, while he would also be looked upon as the main striker going forward, with no transfer speculation to cause his manager to constantly look elsewhere for potential replacements.
Speaking to the BBC, Pardew has signalled his determination to ensure he isn't placed in this position again: "I think he [Ba] will stay, but there's a possibility he could go because of the clause that's still in force. In the summer—I won't let it run until the summer. I'll do something about it."
The question should be, of course, since Ba has been at the club 18 months already, why hasn't Pardew done something about it and had the clause removed beforehand?
Statistical data from TransferMarkt.co.uk