The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Demba Ba's Lessons for Knowledge Musona

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Seven years ago Demba Ba failed trials at English lightweights Barnsley and things were so bad for the budding Senegalese forward that only a French Third Division side, Rouen, could offer him refuge.

Earlier trials at French clubs Lyon and Auxerre had also ended in failure for Ba.

Another English lightweight, Watford, were not so sure and, to minimise their risk, offered him a one-year contract in 2005 but after manager Ray Lewington was fired, his replacement Aidy Boothroyd felt Ba wasn't good enough, and froze him out of the first team.

He quit and moved to the French Third Division from where he was signed by Belgian club, Mouscron, in 2006 but, after scoring in each of his first three games, Ba fractured his tibia and fibula and was out of action for eight months.

He arrived at English Premiership side, Stoke City, last year and failed his medicals, the second time this had happened in his career, after an intended move to German side Vfb Stuttgart in July 2009, also collapsed after he failed a medical.

Noone at either Stoke or Vfb Stuttgart has disclosed to the world the nature of Ba's medical shortcomings.

But shortly after his Stoke ordeal, Ba was whisked away by his agents to try his luck at West Ham United and was signed.

Given all the drama that has gone on in his career, from the heartbreak of his rejection at Lyon, Auxerre and Barnsley, the cold treatment at Watford, the injury curse at Mouscron, the failed medicals at Stoke and

Stuttgart, you would be forgiven to wonder how Ba has kept going all these years.

And, given the explosive success he has enjoyed at West Ham and Newcastle United, you will be right to wonder what the hell was going on in the minds of all the managers at Lyon, Auxerre and Barnsley who decided he wasn't good enough.

Given the prolonged spell that he has completed leading the line at West Ham and at Newcastle, and staying healthy all the time, while taking a lot of the brutality that comes with the defensive hardmen employed specifically to stop him scoring goals, you will be right to wonder what the hell was going on at Stoke when they announced he had failed a medical.

Ba scored seven goals in 12 games for West Ham last season before leaving the club, after his goals failed to save them from relegation, thanks to a clause that allowed him to go elsewhere for free in the event that the Hammers had been relegated.

He has scored 15 goals, in 19 appearances, for Newcastle United and, on Wednesday, he struck a beauty against Manchester United that sent his stock sky-rocketing and, in an instant, turned him into the striker the whole world was talking about.

Ba turns 27 on May 25 next year and, even if you are not Senegalese, you can't help but take a bow for this remarkable marksman, if not for his goals that have made waves, then for his incredible life story in which his courageous fight to defy the odds heavily staked against him.

I like Demba Ba, even after all the torture that he put me through as a die-hard United fan on Wednesday night, because he represents the greatness, on the sporting fields, which Africans can achieve as long as they keep focused on pursuing their goals.

Now and again, Demba Ba stumbled upon a number of racist white managers who probably didn't like his dark features and rather than judge him on substance they decided to judge him on the colour of his skin and told him he had failed trials at Barnsley, of all teams akomana, Auxerre, and all the funny teams.

Someone at Stoke City decided he was not medically fit to play at the Britannia and told him to try his luck elsewhere, although chances of him succeeding were very minimal, but we now know that he was medically okay and chances of him succeeding were very, very good.

Demba Ba will be at the 2012 Nations Cup finals and, after his exploits at Newcastle United this season, he will arrive in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea carrying a heavy load given the weight of expectations on his shoulders to deliver for the Lions of Teranga.

Ten years ago Les Lions de la Teranga, as they are known in French, were every African football lover's favourite national team as they turned on the style at the 2002 World Cup with a sensational win over holders

France and a superb march into the quarter-finals.

A number of heroes emerged then but it's fair to say that the high point of Senegalese football also marked the start of the decline and, until the emergence of Demba Ba recently, the Lions of Teranga were

battling to find someone special to give their team the cutting edge.

Hopefully, in this man, they have found their salvation.

There are lessons that can be picked from Demba Ba's story, the trials and tribulations of his journey in his professional football career, and how it could all have turned out differently.

One of the big lessons is that African players have to scale huge obstacles just to make it in the professional world of European football and if Demba Ba did not have a big heart he could easily have given up when he was told he wasn't good enough at Lyon, Auxerre and Barnsley.

How many other rough African diamonds, whose hearts were not as big as Demba Ba, did we lose simply because they were repeatedly told they were not good enough at a number of clubs and, in the process, they lost their confidence?

How many other African players, who are even better than Demba Ba, simply gave up the game because, after being taken to one or two European clubs and being told they were not up to standard, became disillusioned by it all and turned their back on the sport?

Demba Ba's fascinating tale tells us that African players need much more than their mere talents, for them to make the breakthrough, and they also need a lot of luck.

We can as well argue that his story also tells us that some of the boys we have sent to Europe and were turned back home, simply because the coaches felt they were not good enough, may have been mere victims of ill fortune or a bad timing where they arrived at a time the coach's mood wasn't right.

So when Archford Gutu went to Bulgaria for his trials and came back home without a contract, chances are that he didn't get it not because he wasn't good enough but, like Demba Ba at Barnsley or Lyon or Auxerre, the coach wasn't in the right mood to sign this African player.

So when Ovidy Karuru, for his obvious talent, remains stuck at a French Division Two side, it does not mean that he is not good enough for the big stage but, just like Demba Ba at French Division Three side Rouen in 2005, he has to fight and conquer the odds because he is an African player.

So when Tauya Mrewa went to Scotland and we were sure he would make that breakthrough, simply because we believed he was so good, and somehow he didn't make it, we should have understood the dynamics and complexities of this trade and, like Demba Ba at Auxerre, put everything down to fate.

Think about all the great players we had and who never made it to Europe - Joel Shambo, David Mandigora, Japhet M'parutsa, Shacky Tauro, Memory Mucherahowa, Joe Mugabe, Stewart Murisa, Alois Bunjira, to name but a few - and if you were wondering why, Demba Ba's story will give you the answer.

So when Siphiwe Tshabalala went to Nottingham Forest, after scoring a beauty at the 2010 World Cup, and somehow failed to secure a contract, we should not have laughed at our brothers down South saying that it showed, once again, that their Super Diski was a big joke horribly dramatised by SuperSport.

As, Demba Ba has shown us, failing to secure a contract in Europe if you are an African player doesn't necessarily mean that you are not good enough but you need a big slice of luck.

Now and again we have wondered why our players fail to make it into the big leagues in Europe, and the harsh critics have rushed to say they are not good enough, but if you read the Demba Ba story closely you will see that they might just be unlucky victims in a complicated world.

Benjani Mwaruwari made it in Europe and played at a very big stage but there are many local fans who believe we had a number of better forwards than the Undertaker, who could have made it there, but - just like Demba Ba at Barnsley - they ran into a big hurdle at the very beginning.

Maybe Demba Ba, unlike our boys here in Africa, had the advantage of being born in France, to Senegalese immigrants, and life can be tough in those neighbourhoods it toughens you to grow up with a strong mentality and you know you have to be resilient for you to escape the ghettos.

When they see their pals losing their lives to guns and drugs at a young age, these boys in these tough neighbourhoods, who are blessed with a sporting talent to give them an escape avenue, know that there is no turning back and they pursue their goal relentlessly.

Our boys, it appears, are a bit soft in the belly.

Demba Ba And The Zimbabwe

Connection

It's interesting that Demba Ba was rejected by Auxerre at a time when Benjani was one of the strikers leading the line at the French club which, in the eyes of that team's coaches, our man was better than the Senegalese.

It's also ironic that Demba Ba made his first big impression at TSG Hoffenheim, joining the club in 2007 when it was in Division One and helping them get promoted into the Bundesliga where in their debut appearance in the 2008/2009 season, they even led the championship race at the Christmas break.

He scored 14 goals that season and, although TSG Hoffenheim lost their way after the break to finish the campaign in seventh place, it marked a successful debut appearance for the newcomers.

In January 2011 Demba Ba forced a move from Hoffenheim, choosing not to go for training to get his wish, and after his intended move to Stoke collapsed, he joined West Ham and the rest, as they say, is history.

Knowledge Musona arrived at Hoffenheim in August last year and you get a feeling the German club were looking at him as a direct long-term replacement for Demba Ba.

The Senegalese scored 40 goals in 103 appearances in all competitions for Hoffenheim and Musona has to keep those high standards if he is to make a big impression in Bundesliga and dream of a bigger move to England.

Our talisman should draw inspiration from Demba Ba because he showed him that nothing is impossible and, when you look at Musona, you get this feeling that he has more natural talent than the Senegalese hitman who is setting the world alight.

Of course Ba is the orthodox old-fashioned centre forward, big, springy and deadly while Musona is the new millennium forward, who offers his team more than just the goals but also penetration and assists that come from his natural ability to eliminate defenders.

Every team needs a big game player for it to succeed and Ba is providing that to the Lions of Teranga and, hopefully, one fine day our golden boy - once he settles down in Europe - will provide that role, just like what King Peter used to do in the good old days.

Demba Ba's secret is that he drinks a lot of strawberry syrup.

Hopefully, our golden boy Musona, who is at the club where Ba cemented his status as a genuinely good forward, can learn a trick or two and, if not in the way the Senegalese has progressed, then in the drink he loves.

At 21, Demba Ba was playing in Belgium for Mouscron.

At 21, Musona is in the trenches of the Bundesliga.

Something tells me that, if only our Golden Boy can have the same big heart that helped Ba defy all the odds, then in a few years time, we will be reading about him setting the world stage alight.

It's nothing patriotic but something tells me Musona will be a bigger star than Ba.

Spare A Thought For The Warriors

But whether Musona's rise into a genuine world-class forward can translate into great things for the Warriors is another story.

And the shock of what happened in their camp this week, the mess that characterised their preparations and the unprofessional way everything was handled, shows that we are still a long way from getting to the Promised Land.

Cuthbert Dube is away on holiday and you get a feeling everything stops at Zifa when he is not there.

We can blame the foreign clubs for becoming too strong but let's look ourselves in the mirror and we will see we are the ones to blame because we can't be asking for players to be released at short notice.

And you get a feeling Hoffenheim are not comfortable with Musona taking a risky lengthy bus ride, between borders, to just play a friendly international and the same goes for all the clubs in South Africa and France.

It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it, that Musona can take about 12 hours flying from his base in Germany to Harare via Johannesburg and yet is supposed to spend more than 24 hours traveling by bus from Harare to Gaborone for a friendly international.

It sounds ridiculous that the Young Warriors flew to Gaborone for the Cosafa Youth Championships only last month while the senior team has to take the lengthy bus ride.

Something just doesn't add up and until we get those things right, I'm sorry to say we are heading nowhere once again.

Yes, Zifa's coffers are empty but let's get our house in order first and, if we don't have the money to fulfil the friendly international, we better turn down that request rather than send a makeshift team, subject the players to horrible conditions and expect them to somehow win.

When the players see their Zifa leaders traveling to Cosafa meetings in Gaborone by plane, and not by bus, they too expect to be given the same kind of treatment because, after all, the agenda is the same and only the roles are different.

Once we start seeing our Zifa leaders also traveling to Gaborone for Cosafa meetings by bus - first passing Norton, then Chegutu, then Kwekwe, then Gweru, then Shangani, then Bulawayo, then Plumtree and into Francistown and beyond - then the boys will begin to understand that the tough times are for everyone in the game.

Right now it reads like Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others.

Everything changes. Everything stays the same.

A Defiant Red Devil Cry

Sixty-four years ago when our eight players died in Munich, they said the dreams had also died with the players.

In '95, when we crashed out in the Champions League group stages, they said we were not good enough for Europe.

Seven years ago, when Arsenal went an entire season undefeated, they said United would never be the same again. Six years ago, when we were knocked out in the group stages of the same tournament, they said our empire was in decline but two years later we were Champions League winners.

Two years ago, when Cristiano Ronaldo left, they said it was the beginning of the end and when we lost 2-0 to Barcelona, they said we'd never get another chance again.

Seventeen years ago some Scousers dismissed our eighth Premiership title and told us to come back when we had 18.

But here we stand with 19 titles. My Manchester United will rise again and I can bet my last dollar that I will be here chanting my team's name because I know that will happen.

And for good measure we won the most dramatic Champions League title in '99 and, in case you have forgotten it, we won again in 2008 and, if it's consistency you want, we have been in three of the last four Champions League finals - DONNEMORE MAJUKWA

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chicharitooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

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