Newcastle United striker's 'deficiency' has proved a hindrance to his career but has made him mentally strong
For a man with a chronic, degenerative knee condition Demba Ba remains exceedingly sprightly but the Newcastle United striker is full of contradictions.
The Senegal international says very little in public yet has an apparent army of representatives who make it abundantly clear he rather fancies doubling his salary and playing Champions League football.
Ba has told Newcastle that some of those purporting to be acting for him during unsuccessful negotiations with Chelsea on Sunday had no authority to do so but, if that were really the case, why did he not intervene to halt the discussions?
Alan Pardew feels a little let down by such disingenuous behaviour but Newcastle's manager is dealing with a talented 27-year-old damaged by the experience of suffering both serious injury and rejection by a string of clubs early in his career. Allied to his religious faith – a devout Muslim Ba prays five times a day – such setbacks have turned him into the "mentally strongest" player Pardew has worked with.
An influential voice in Newcastle's dressing room, there is a sense that, internally, he is raging against previous injustices – not to mention a dying of the light threatened by a knee problem that, sooner or later, is expected to bring his career to a premature end.
One of seven children born to immigrants living in a Paris suburb, Ba began his football career as a central midfielder – "a bit like Patrick Vieira" he has said – but decided that tackling was not too much fun and switched to attack.
Initially he struggled to make a breakthrough, experiencing rejections by Watford, Barnsley and several European sides. He eventually joined Rouen in France and then Mouscron in Belgium, before getting properly noticed at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.
The days when he earned under £1,000 a month at Rouen and struggled to pay the rent on a cramped studio flat were over but Ba could not quite shake off the past. In 2006 he had broken his left leg in two places and a surgeon had inserted a pin to stabilise the fractures.
In 2009 it was removed during emergency surgery at a German trauma clinic and in the course of that operation a tendon became damaged. A year later Hoffenheim sent him to the clinic of Ulrich Boenisch in Augsburg, who tidied up the knee but Ba failed medicals at Stuttgart and Stoke City before joining West Ham United.
He moved to Newcastle on a free transfer in 2011, agreeing a partial pay-as-you- play deal – understood to involve a basic £20,000 a week and another £20,000 for each appearance – after failing another medical.
"I don't need a surgeon to tell me about Demba's knee," Pardew said but he subsequently acknowledged that the striker suffers some discomfort in the knee joint.
The precise nature of the problem is a closely guarded secret. Pardew has described it as "a deficiency", revealed there "is a photograph [MRI scan] of Demba's knee looking very poorly" and indicated it will almost certainly cause him problems in the future.
One plausible theory is that chondral defects, namely the holes in the articular cartilage which spell bad news for footballers, could be involved but the issue has become something of a taboo subject.
Whatever the exact problem, Newcastle are sufficiently confident about Ba's medium-term prognosis to offer him an improved deal which, although well short of the £80,000 a week he is demanding, emphasises the importance of a striker who scored 16 goals last season and has already registered 13 this term.
There is, however, a counter-theory which argues that his departure could prove a disguised blessing as Ba is reluctant to play the unselfish left-side role in a 4-3-3 formation at which he excels and which brings out the best in Papiss Cissé.
The problem with that deployment in the spring was that Ba's goals dried up while Cissé could not stop scoring. Following a dispute with Pardew after he was dropped to the bench for a game at Everton in September, Ba has nearly always appeared in a central position with the now struggling Cissé often shifted to the right.
Significantly when two strikers, who are rarely deployed in tandem for Senegal, play as a front pair they can tend to replicate each other's runs rather than one dropping off and helping the other.
The puzzle – not just for Newcastle fans but Ba's admirers at Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to ponder – is that his all-round technical excellence dictates he can also play wide or as a classic, deep-lying No10, thereby suggesting he should be capable of doing more to make the partnership with Cissé work. Ba, though, is a man of contradictions.