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Ba's move to West Ham still a sore point

His switch from German side Hoffenheim ranks among the most contentious, so much so that he has become synonymous among Bundesliga club executives for how a footballer should not be permitted to behave.

Demba Ba, left, and Thomas Hitzlsperger celebrate during West Ham's FA Cup win over Burnley. Paul Gilham / Getty Images
Demba Ba, left, and Thomas Hitzlsperger celebrate during West Ham's FA Cup win over Burnley. Paul Gilham / Getty Images

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Demba Ba scored twice on his first start as a Premier League footballer, the headline act in West Ham United's stirring comeback from three goals down to draw 3-3 with West Bromwich Albion.

The point may yet be one the London club remember as vital in their struggle against relegation.

Those goals are worth euros to the German club Hoffenheim, too, because an element of the fee for Ba's transfer to Upton Park will be determined by how often the Senegalese international scores.

But Ba should probably wait a while before anticipating a congratulatory message from Hoffenheim; they were far from happy to see him leave.

Of the many moves of a busy January transfer window, Ba's ranks among the most contentious, so much so that the 25-year-old's name has become synonymous among Bundesliga club executives for how a footballer should not be permitted to behave.

Ba had a contract with Hoffenheim, the club he joined in the second tier of German football in 2007, which ran until 2013. By December, he was keen to explore new territories, particularly English football. Hoffenheim, though, wanted to keep him.

After talks about a possible release had broken down, Ba effectively went on strike and refused to join Hoffenheim's winter training camp after the Christmas/New Year break. His actions - among those of other Bundesliga players who pushed for transfers last month against the wishes of their employers - provoked a rare show of corporate solidarity across German boardrooms.

"We have to strike back hard against people like Ba," Uli Hoeness, the general manager of Bayern Munich, said. "and he's just the worst of several cases".

Hear, hear, muttered Hamburg, as they listened to Ruud van Nistelrooy pleading to be allowed to rejoin Real Madrid.

Klaus Allofs, the technical director at Werder Bremen, said: "Every German club needs to unite on this issue, to make sure Ba does not get offered a way out of Hoffenheim to another Bundesliga club."

For the previous three years, much of German football had looked on in envy at Hoffenheim's quick, powerful and mobile centre-forward. Few players contributed more to Hoffenheim's astonishing march up the hierarchy between 2007 and 2010.

He was part of a fairy tale that saw a place with a population of just over 3,000 put, for a period, its name at the very top of the German league table.

Ba had helped propel upwards a club who in the early 1990s were in the seventh division of the Baden-Wurttemberg league, and who had reached only the third tier of the German football pyramid by 2001.

Dietmar Hopp, a former player there, then began to pump some of the money he made as a successful businessman into a push for Bundesliga 1 status.

When Hoffenheim recruited Ba, they paid the highest fee, some €3 million (Dh15m), in the history of the German second division. Ba repaid them with the goals that earned promotion. He kept scoring in the top flight, as well, and his final audit for Hoffenheim was an impressive 37 strikes in 97 games.

In some ways, Ba's journey from obscurity had been as dramatic as Hoffenheim's. He was born in Paris, where he grew up with eight siblings in a tight-knit family.

His Senegalese parents were far from wealthy, and had reason, as Ba went into his late teens cherishing ambitions to be a professional footballer, to doubt he would make the grade. He had trials with Ligue 1 clubs Lyon and Auxerre. Neither offered him contracts.

So Ba went abroad, crossed the channel and tried to catch the eye of Championship - second-tier - clubs in England. Watford took him on, but briefly, and Ba moved back to France, to Rouen, where he would discover a goal-scoring touch, albeit in the lower divisions. His next move would be to Belgian football, with Mouscron, and there - with eight goals in 12 games - his record caught the attention of ambitious Hoffenheim.

Injuries had interrupted him already in his career, and would again. Interest from Stuttgart faded two years ago because of doubts about his hardiness. Not that Ba seems frail; quite the opposite.

In duels he is muscular and in sprints, explosive. But Stoke City, who looked the likeliest club to recruit him during the player's stand-off with Hoffenheim, said no after he had undergone a medical examination.

West Ham were not put off; Hoffenheim, although miffed, felt they had no choice but to let Ba go. Those who know him well expect him to succeed in England.

"He has most of what you look for in a modern striker," says Amara Traore, the head coach of the Senegal national team, for whom Ba has won nine caps.

"He has pace and power, and those assets should be successful in the Premier League."

The question for West Ham is whether he can make those qualities count, in enough games, to keep his new club in England's elite division.

 

sports@thenational.ae