Date:Saturday December 29 2012
Amid a run of poor results, something that is not exactly alien to Alan Pardew, he has finally made his position on Demba Ba`s clause clear - or has he?
'I won't let it run until the summer. I'll do something about it. We will either move Demba on or we will secure him in the summer.'
At first sight, it seems a sensible move to try and sort out the Demba contract situation. It is now being widely reported that if Ba is not sold in the January window, Pardew will ensure that the famous clause will be gone by the summer - or Demba will himself.
So why is the clause there in the first place? Ba was a "free" signing from West Ham, after another transfer clause had been activated with their relegation from the Premier League. The player himself had already failed a medical at Stoke City, manager Tony Pulis describing his degenerative knee condition as "a ticking time bomb". Ba had previously failed a medical at Stuttgart in 2009.
It will not be forgotten that Ashley`s staff took a similar gamble during the same summer on Sylvain Marveaux who ended up missing most of last season due to a recurrent injury. Ashley is known for his exploits at the gaming tables, sometimes winning, sometimes losing and it would not seem unreasonable to assume that he sees transfer targets in the same light.
In Ba`s case, what he got out of the deal was the chance to perform on the Premier League stage, even if not with Stoke City. After a prolific run at the Hammers, he had introduced himself to the English game. He still had more to prove.
From Newcastle United`s perspective, signing Ba was still a risk. Yes, if he performed, Andy Carrol`s or Kevin Nolan`s goals could be replaced for a minimal outlay. If not his wages would be a potential burden over the life of his contract. Accordingly, it seems that his deal has been heavily weighted to appearance bonuses ostensibly grossing up to £60k per week depending on performance.
It is known that the club had difficulty in concluding the negotiations. Ba is represented by no fewer than 5 agents, all seeking their cuts. Signing him for a relatively low basic wage, at least by Premier League standards for a goal scorer, probably inevitably meant that something else would have to give, hence the release clause, a mere £7.5m, in the event to be distributed between the club, his agents and the player himself.
The player`s cut works as a "loyalty" bonus, inasmuch as a matching bid means that the player would not be required to submit a transfer request. The agents` share meant that there is a vested interest in moving him on. No doubt the club were persuaded, or persuaded themselves that if Ba proved successful, the worst outcome would be a small profit, or that the clause could be negotiated away.
Unsurprisingly, it appears that Mike Ashley, who did not do due diligence by buying the club, did not foresee the current situation developing.
Ba is the current top scorer, having finished last season with the same accolade. A purple batch before Christmas last year turned into a relative drought with Ba playing out on the wing as his compatriot, Papiss Cisse was brought in to provide the goals.
This will be the 3rd transfer window that the clause has made headlines. Perhaps it is the fear of losing Ba cheaply that has meant the player being restored to the centre with Cisse now in the wider role. Can Pardew pick the formation he wants, or is team selection determined by a more commercial aspect? By playing through the middle, can Ba be persuaded that it is more in his interests to wait for a big income move next summer?
Pardew`s sudden apparent forcefulness should not be a surprise, or at least the new take on his position should not be. It became public knowledge weeks ago that the club had tabled a "final offer" with the new contract remaining unsigned.
From the player`s perspective, he may feel that he has done enough to justify the bonuses being built into his basic wage, plus a bit more for performance. Removal of the clause means that the club will profit should he be sold, perhaps for £15-20m now that he has provided more evidence of his consistency. In turn, a higher fee restricts the budget that any prospective club can allocate to Demba himself.
Removal of the clause would have to be of sufficient value to compensate for the £10m or so of lost future earnings, or at least a significant compromise on that.
Behind the scenes briefings might lead supporters to conclude that Ba is being mercenary. Whilst he seems to enjoy his football at St James` Park, the money men, in the form of his agents and the club secretary, have a business deal to conclude in the background. Who has the upper hand?
Newcastle United have 3 strikers with Premier league pedigree. The third striker, Shola Ameobi, may ultimately be taken away for the Africa Cup of Nations. If Ba goes, options are limited. Pardew can get tough but ultimately, the decision will be taken far above his head.
If Ba goes, a new striker will have to be signed in a hurry, there being no guarantees under the current regime. From a Newcastle United perspective, they will be competing in a sellers` market. We all saw the summer targets fall through, the club ostensibly refusing to go above their own valuations.
The club also have a couple of other factors going against. 12 points from 45 is not the best advert for incoming signings. Neither is it necessarily appealing to join a club in European competition only to see the tournament as a training ground for reserve team players.
So Pardew is having his strings pulled by different puppeteers, players unhappy with his style of play, Ba reportedly among them as well as Captain Colo. His paymasters have provided him with the relative security of an 8 year contract but with their own escape clauses, a similar off the record briefing shedding light on that more recently too. In the meantime, a transfer policy geared towards churning players for profit hardly provides the manager with structural stability.
There is a saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Perhaps Pardew likes to perpetuate that illusion with his latest quotes. Maybe Pardew himself will soon be gone as he has when the going got tough at West Ham and Charlton. It will be interesting to see which escape clause is exercised first.
Date:Saturday December 29 2012
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