Is Demba Ba on his way out of Newcastle?
The January transfer window is almost upon us yet again, and for the second time in three January windows, Newcastle yet again seem destined to lose their top goal scorer. Demba Ba's buy-out clause of £7.5 million is currently the worst-kept secret in football, and in recent weeks, there has been a queue of clubs scrapping it out for his signature.
Arsenal were seemingly favourites, especially considering the speculation over the future of Theo Walcott, but Chelsea are now front-runners to sign him, having announced on Sunday that they are set to hold talks with the Senegalese international over a possible move in the new year.
Alan Pardew once again faces the probability of losing his most outstanding player and top goal scorer at the midway point of the season. It is far from an ideal situation; Newcastle are struggling enough already this season, and the fee that they'll receive for him is incredibly low in today's market for such a talented striker.
Learning From Carroll
Two January windows ago, Pardew lost his then-top scorer, Andy Carroll, in a £35 million move to Liverpool. At the time, Newcastle fans were extremely disappointed to see him go, but the offer was too great to turn down, and the striker's struggles since have proved that it turned out to be an excellent piece of business.
At the time Carroll left, Newcastle were seventh in the table, and only a dramatic turn in fortune would have seen them not get relegated. With this window approaching, the situation is far from rosy in the North East. At the moment, it doesn't seem as though Newcastle can afford to lose Ba, a player who has scored 13 of their 26 league goals, but it seems certain now that in January he will be on his way.
Obviously, losing your top goalscorer halfway through the season is far from ideal; only a fool would suggest otherwise. When Carroll left Newcastle, they seemed ill-equipped to compete without him. His transfer fee may have been huge, but he left on the last day of the window, so Newcastle had no time to replace him.
They were left for the rest of the season with Leon Best, Peter Lovenkrands and Shola Ameobi, a ragtag group of striking journeymen at best. But even with Ba in their team, Newcastle have looked an incredibly average outfit this season.
Cisse to Step Up
If Ba leaves in January, they will be left with Papiss Cisse, who will need to be ready to step up to become Newcastle's main striker once again. He must take the opportunity to prove that he was not just a flash in the pan.
Despite a promising start in which both Ba and Cisse both scored on Cisse's debut against Aston Villa in February, they have failed to form a cohesive partnership since. At the back end of last season, Pardew took advantage of Ba's versatility, playing him wide left, and Newcastle were kept in the hunt for a Champions League spot by Cisse's exceptional form, eventually finishing an impressive fifth.
This season, as Cisse has struggled, Newcastle's form has been hampered by Pardew's reluctance to drop either of the two either to the bench or into an unfavoured position out wide for the benefit of the team's shape and balance.
Cisse does not look comfortable playing out wide, and Pardew can not afford to shift Ba out wide again, as he has looked their only genuine goal threat throughout much of the season. A move away for Ba may help Cisse feel like the main man again, a role he seemed to revel in last campaign, and maybe Newcastle will see the best of him again.
It could also have positive repercussions throughout the rest of the team. Pardew can shift back to his preferred 4-3-3 shape, which will suit their two best creative players in Ben Arfa (who prefers to be out wide in a three-man attack, rather than on the right of a four-man midfield) and Cabaye (whose best position is at the head of a midfield triangle, rather than as part of a two-man midfield).
Goal Scorers Aren't Everything
Pardew can also look to the Premier League's past for inspiration. There have been times when a club's top goal scorer has left and it has had a positive effect on a club, and he can use these instances as encouragement to help him visualize and plan for life beyond Demba Ba.
In the summer of 2006, Manchester United sold their brilliant goal scorer, Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman seemed irreplaceable at the club after 95 league goals in 150 games, especially considering his replacement in United's starting XI was Louis Saha, a talented player but one blighted with injury. He was yet to really establish himself at United despite having been there a couple of years.
But replacing their main goal threat with an undoubtedly weaker player actually helped United's overall game. Saha did not provide the same level of goal threat, but his performances that season were excellent, and his unselfishness helped Rooney and Ronaldo to flourish, playing just behind him. After three barren campaigns with Van Nistelrooy, United went on to win the title that year with an overall lesser player leading the line.
Thierry the Talisman
During Thierry Henry's best days as an Arsenal player, he was arguably the greatest striker in the world, the talisman in Arsenal's greatest period of success, culminating in their 2004 "Invincibles" season.
But by the start of 2006-07 season, many of Arsenal's biggest players had moved on. Pires, Vieira, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and Dennis Bergkamp had all left or retired. Freddie Ljungberg remained for one more season, but his best days were well behind him.
There was massive upheaval and a new band of players were coming through. Players such as Gael Clichy, Adebayor, Fabregas and Matthieu Flamini were trying to establish themselves at the club and attempting to do the impossible in replacing Arsenal's "Invincibles" of just a few years before.
But the new young band of players seemed in awe of Henry. Every time they played, they always seemed obligated to give him the ball; everything had to go through him and their form suffered as a result. They managed just 68 points that season.
During the summer of 2007, though, Henry was moved on to Barcelona, and Arsenal went on to have an excellent next campaign. They mustered 83 league points and seemed destined towards a title charge with their fresh, young band of players, only derailed by the horrific injury to Eduardo, from which they never managed to fully recover.
The brilliant Cesc Fabregas replaced Henry as their talisman and playmaker, and Adebayor was exceptional in leading the line, benefiting from being away from the shadow of Henry, scoring 24 league goals in the process.
A Dem-ba-rture May Not Be The End Of The World
There are cases throughout Premier League history then that prove that a club who loses its top goal scorer do not necessarily suffer as a result.
Ba leaving Newcastle will certainly be a blow for the club, but more than anything, it is a blow to their ambitions to establish themselves as a top club once again in the long-term. In the short-term, it may actually help improve their form and help get them out of their slump.
If they sell him early in January, they can shift back to a system which suits their best creative players better. Cisse will have to take the opportunity to step up, and they can use the transfer fee to reinvest in a different type of player to Cisse, one who will provide an alternative option rather than having two players who continue to get in each other's way.
Losing your top goal scorer is never going to be a good thing, and the fee they will be losing him for will be extremely disappointing to everyone associated with the club (although it can quite possibly be considered karma for the outrageous figure they received for Andy Carroll), but for the rest of the season, it has the potential to help Pardew and Newcastle rather than hinder.
Ba leaving will be a blow, but Newcastle are really struggling at the moment; their form can not get much worse, and Pardew is a good enough manager to bring Newcastle out of this situation better off, much like he did after Carroll's departure. As a result, they may see themselves climbing the table in 2013.
Losing your top goal scorer is not always the end of the world...until he scores against you for his new club.