Demba Ba has found his true home at Beşiktaş

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Updated: February 18, 2015

Original article published on and written for ESPNFC by Michael Yokhin


 

It is somewhat ironic that Demba Ba is visiting England so often after moving from Chelsea to Besiktas in the summer.

First he faced Arsenal, the team that so dearly wanted to sign him a year previously, in the Champions League playoff round, and nearly scored with an audacious lob from the kickoff. The Gunners won the double contest, and the Turks dropped to the Europa League to meet Tottenham in the group stage. Ba scored a late penalty and was the best performer at White Hart Lane, where Besiktas were by far the better team in their Oct. 2 match, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Now the Senegalese striker is back for the third time this season, returning to the scene of his most famous goal. Liverpool fans will never forget Ba racing to put Chelsea in front for good after the tragic Steven Gerrard slip that ruined their sacred title dream. The last 32 fixture in the Europa League will not evoke the same emotions, but just watching Ba at Anfield again will be painful.

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Demba Ba broke Liverpool hearts last season by dashing their title hopes when he scored off of Steven Gerrard’s slip.

 

It was a classy finish by Ba in April, and it must be stated that his overall record for Chelsea last season was remarkably good. Despite being pushed to the very fringes of the squad by manager Jose Mourinho, the Senegalese not only scored one of the most fateful goals in recent Premier League history, but also netted the all-important winner in the quarterfinal clash with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Ba found the net eight times in 895 minutes of play in all competitions in 2013-14 — that’s a goal every 112 minutes on average. Compare that to 17 goals in 2,244 minutes scored by Diego Costa this season, which means he scores every 132 minutes. That is definitely not the only criteria to judge players, but there is a certain food for thought nevertheless when you consider the instant legendary status that the Brazilian-born Spaniard enjoys these days.

The sheer decisiveness with which Ba was discarded last season in spite of his potential value to the team is startling. After all, Mourinho fully acknowledged Ba’s quality when he refused selling the striker to Arsenal because, according to the Special One, that could turn his rivals into title contenders. It becomes even more astonishing when you witness his form for Besiktas this term. To put it simply, Ba is one of the best strikers in Europe. He has become an ultimate hero of the Black and White part of Istanbul in a matter of weeks, and the admiration is growing stronger and stronger with every passing day.

DembaBa20

Ba has Besiktas in the hunt for their first Super Lig title since 2009.

Ba has often been seen as a mercenary during his career. His ugly departure from Hoffenheim to West Ham in January 2011 definitely left a very sour taste, and then he left West Ham for Newcastle for free thanks to a release clause in case of relegation. Eighteen months and 29 goals later, he was off to Stamford Bridge. There is another way to look at all those adventures, though — just put yourself in the shoes of a guy who came from a humble background and made his way up against the odds, having heard that his bad knees would prevent him from playing at all.

It is only natural that Ba wanted to make the most of every opportunity, both professionally and financially. Unfortunately for him, once he’s finally arrived to the top at Chelsea, he became unwanted. A new change was desperately needed and that meant stopping his climbing up the football ladder and instead finding a place that suited him most. Istanbul proved to be the right destination.

“The interest shown by the fans won me over,” Ba said upon signing for Besiktas, who haven’t won the league title since 2009. He was mobbed by hundreds of supporters at Ataturk airport, and that immediately felt right. The Senegalese is a devout practicing Muslim, which has helped him immensely to find mutual language with everyone around. Ba is at home, probably for the first time in his career, and it shows.

It all started with a hat trick against Feyenoord in early August, which enabled Besiktas to stay in Europe and play Arsenal. The Tottenham game was very important too, and then Ba started scoring in the Super Lig. It is not only about goals, though. The striker is making countless chances for his teammates as well, and the best example came in the dramatic 3-2 win over Sivasspor in October.

Ba scored two absolutely superb goals in that fixture against the side that was then managed by Roberto Carlos, but his best touch was the exquisite nonchalant no-look back-heel assist to Olcay Sahan, who netted the winner. The very fact that the striker tried — and succeeded — to do something so outrageous gave him even more confidence. At the age of 29, Ba is simply flourishing.

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Ba has thrived under the guidance of Besiktas manager Slaven Bilic.

He has always been a reliable goal getter, but never before was he considered the ultimate entertainer. That’s what Ba has become at Besiktas under Slaven Bilic. The Croatian calls his star “a magician,” while the striker himself returns the favour claiming that “Bilic is the best coach in Turkey.” Together, they dream of winning the elusive title, which will be the first for each of them. Hull City and Aston Villa tried to sign him in January, but they were wasting everyone’s time. Ba is a mercenary no more.

The Senegalese was injured after scoring in the 3-0 win over Trabzonspor in December, and fans feared that he might not regain his great form. On the contrary, Ba only became better upon returning in January. Netting twice in another extremely dramatic 3-2 win over Bursaspor on Sunday meant that he scored in four league games in a row, bringing home the three points in each of them.

Lady luck is smiling upon him as well, as Ba scored the most improbable and bizarre goal imaginable against Mersin in the beginning of February. The striker’s initial shot was saved by former Liverpool keeper Nikolay Mihaylov, but the ball rebounded off Ba’s back into the net as he fell.

It’s not even spring, but Ba has long surpassed his best previous tally. With 13 goals in Super Lig, one in the cup and eight more in Europe, his total stands on 22. Nothing will stop him from reaching 30 at the very least.

Liverpool are about to face Ba in his prime. Talented, experienced, happy, confident, dedicated and lucky, he is very dangerous. His mission is not to break the hearts of Anfield faithful again, but rather to get a revenge for the 8-0 thrashing Besiktas received on Liverpool’s home ground in 2007. That’s what their fans want, and Ba will do his utmost not to disappoint them. He is one of them.


 

– Written by Michael Yokhin who is an experienced European football writer who contributes to ESPN, Blizzard, Champions and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin

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Kaan Bayazit

Editor-in-chief at Beşiktaş International
Freelance sports writer specialized in Turkish football and Beşiktaş. Co-host of the Black Eagles podcast. Frequently featured in World Soccer Digest Japan and many other international media outlets. Following Turkish football for close to two decades. Proud father to Aedin.
Kaan Bayazit
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