Newcastle’s next great No. 9, Papiss Demba Cissé
Posted on March 21st, 2012
Word spread quickly around Newcastle United’s training ground. He’s here. He’s finally arrived. Those players finishing a light session hesitated before getting changed and driving home. Instead they “stuck around for a nosey at him.”
Every day for the past two and a half weeks, they’d read and heard a lot about the club’s new £9m signing from S.C Freiburg, Papiss Demba Cissé. He must be something a bit special, a “good’un,” they said. Not just anyone is given the honor of wearing one of the most iconic numbers in football and privileged enough to inherit the stripes of ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn, Malcolm Macdonald, Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Andy Carroll.
“There are certain shirts,” Newcastle manager Alan Pardew claimed. “The No 7 at Liverpool, No 10 at Manchester United, No 10 at Arsenal and No 9 here. It is very important that players wearing those shirts know about the different legends and traditions running through their clubs.”
The mood of expectation and sense of mystery surrounding Cissé was only heightened by the flying visit he paid to Tyneside to put pen to paper on his five-and-a-half year contract on January 17 before then jetting off with his international and now club teammate Demba Ba to meet up with the Senegal squad for the African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Ba’s own success, his 16 goals in 20 games for Newcastle this season, and the familiar rite of passage from the Bundesliga to the Premier League added to the feeling that Cissé might not just be good but possibly even better. Their shared experience as compatriots was held up as yet another reason why things would work out well at St James’s Park, even though, while clearly important from a settling-in point of view, it offered no guarantee that they’d gel as a pairing. “People are under a misapprehension that they have this partnership that’s formed – it’s not.” Pardew said. “They have hardly played together.”
Geordies eager to catch an early glimpse of Cissé and Ba in action found that out for themselves by watching Senegal fall at the first hurdle in the African Cup of Nations. As a strike force, they only started one match together, but there was little spark, although that was probably down to the counter-intuitive way they were used by coach Amara Traoré.
A lot rested on Cissé’s shoulders. There was a lot for the player to take in: first Senegal’s shock elimination from a major tournament and the fallout thereafter then the adaptation to a new country, a new club and a new league. Still, reassurances were forthcoming. “Newcastle have got a jewel,” Freiburg general manager Rudi Raschke insisted. “From the moment he arrived, he was happy and scoring goals. We have never had a player like him. [Papiss] finished second top scorer in Germany last season behind [Mario] Gomez at Bayern Munich and he’s a €30m player.”
Pardew had done his homework. According to The Guardian, Newcastle’s chief scout Graham Carr had first watched Cissé a couple of years ago, but the manager had also become aware of his talent during the time he spent between jobs visiting various Bundesliga clubs, communing with their coaching staffs and exchanging opinions on tactics, training and players. “Ever since Andy Carroll left, Papiss was my first choice,” he told Newcastle’s official website.
It’s not hard to see why. Though written off as a young player because his wiry frame led many clubs to believe he was far too lightweight ever to make it at the highest level, Cissé might have once been a slow burner, but at Metz then particularly Freiburg he developed and matured into quite an explosive proposition. Watch the 37 goals he scored in 65 games in the Bundesliga and what stands out is his directness, how he pounces on chances and takes shots early. Elaborate he is not. Emphatic he most certainly is.
But that’s not to say there isn’t an element of control to his unbridled born-free style of play. Even a lion chasing after its prey on the savannah needs to show economy of movement and lucidity of mind to snare its catch. Cissé demonstrates that in his running. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time be it in the centre of the six-yard box awaiting a cut-back or at the far post anticipating a cross. And what of his composure from the penalty spot. “I think even when he sleeps he thinks about the back of the net,” Ba tweeted.
His debut against Aston Villa on Sunday didn’t disappoint. Pardew went so far as to call it “boy’s annual stuff.” Replacing the injured Leon Best after 14 minutes, Cissé scored the winner in a 2-1 victory, chesting down a ball on the edge of the box then lashing at it first time like Jackson Pollock flicking a paintbrush. His shot soared into the top corner in front of a delirious Gallowgate End, the crucible of all things Newcastle.
It was a very promising performance and gave an indication of what’s to come from the ‘Double Demba’ partnership, with Cissé running in behind and Ba coming short. “After the game, he did his interview and then he came in [the dressing room] and shook everyone’s hand, all the staff,” Pardew revealed. “Those little moments are nice. He’s a genuine guy. This is a guy who just wants to do well for Newcastle.”
That’s an important observation. So much of scouting today isn’t just about how a player acts on the pitch, but the way they handle themselves off it too. Freiburg couldn’t speak highly enough of Cissé. By all accounts, he was a model professional and a responsible one too. As is so often the case with African players who’ve made it in Europe, they provide for and supports an extended family. In Cissé’s case that means “65-70 living relatives” back in Casamance, the part of Senegal from where he hails. “I am the only one who has the opportunity to help put the family on its feet financially,” he told Die Welt.
In the same interview, it was noted how, instead of going out into the centre of Freiburg, Cissé would stay home and play FIFA 2012 on his PlayStation. The skill rating of his own character in the game was pointed out as 81, inferior to other Bundesliga stars like Shinji Kagawa , Jefferson Farfan  and Renato Augusto , even though he’d scored more goals than all three of them put together. “You’re right. Maybe I should write a letter,” he joked.
Whether it ever got sent or not is unknown, but considering the way Cissé has started his Newcastle career, one imagines that by the time the next edition comes out, his ability will be more in line with the reality, as one of Europe’s most feared strikers.
This article first appeared on ESPN