Newcastle United wrapped up the signing of SC Freiburg’s Senegalese international striker Papiss Demba Cissé on Tuesday evening.
With the transfer fee at a reported £10 million, it represents a significant investment for Newcastle in the prolific Bundesliga forward, who has been linked with a move to England since the summer. But how well will Cissé do at the club? Here are a few things you need to know about Freiburg’s former marksman and how he might fit in on Tyneside. In short, the signing could prove to be yet another great bargain for the club.
The first thing to mention about Cissé is his goalscoring record. In two years at Freiburg, one full season and two half ones, Cissé has excellent statistics, finding the net 39 times in 65 games. In his first, and ultimately only, full season in the Bundesliga, he scored 22 goals, second only to Mario Gómez. Those goals propelled Freiburg to the dizzy heights of 9th, and elevated the man himself to the status of one of the league’s best players. 52% of Freiburg’s goals last season and 43% in this one have come from him. To say has carried Freiburg isn’t quite fair, but it’s not a million miles away. He galvanised the rest of the team with his performances in what was a season of remarkable success for the club. Cissé added nine goals in the first half of this season, but Freiburg have had a hugely disappointing campaign, especially defensively, and currently sit rock bottom.
Cissé signed for Freiburg in January 2010 from FC Metz, for a club record fee of €1.5 million. That he will leave for a reported €12 million represents a significant growth in stature of the player who has the potential to excel in the Premier League. “It was clear to us that it was always going to be difficult to keep a player of Papiss’ quality in Breisgau permanently,” said Freiburg’s sporting director Dirk Dufner upon the player’s departure.
In terms of attributes, Cissé has a powerful all-round game. He possesses great pace, able to turn away from a defender, and scored many of his goals for Freiburg with one-on-one chances in this way. Good with both feet, Cissé is agile, athletic and has good ball control. Most importantly, he is a dangerous penalty box player, which means he will suit Newcastle’s style of play well. (More analysis of how he might fit in at Newcastle to come.)
There are a few other things to bear in mind though. For instance, there can be little doubt that he was the focal point of the Freiburg side. Often playing as a solo striker, the team’s style afforded him a lot of free-rein. He made a lot of solo runs with the ball and was allowed to take a lot of shots. Cissé has had the most attempts on goal (62) of any player in the Bundesliga this season. The team’s function was usually to create chances for Cissé to finish, and he scored many of his goals from close range as a result of that.
When prolific goalscorers at lower-level clubs, are inevitably invited to play on a greater stage, there are conflicting theories about how well they will adapt. One is that, among more talented company, the player will adapt well to his new surroundings, more appropriate to his talent, and replicate his former success (and possibly even become better). The other is that if a player is the focal point of his club, with the playing style built to suit his own qualities, he might find it difficult to play at a higher level, where the team isn’t build around him and where he must move out of his comfort zone. Hopefully this will not be an issue for Cissé, who will only gain favour with new boss Alan Pardew through a committed work-rate, which, as he said after the win over QPR last week, is a huge part of the “team ethos”. Good thing then, he has, as Raphael Honigstein observed last year, an “exceptional work ethic”.
So how will Cissé adapt? Here, comparisons between him and Demba Ba will inevitably be drawn. Both are Senegalese, in their mid-20s, and were prolific in the Bundesliga in lower-reputation teams before moving to England. Comparing players based on these facets seems a little thin, but the fortunes of Ba in the Premiership might give a good indicator as to how Papiss Cissé will handle the English game.
Ba arrived at West Ham United in January 2011 having scored 28 goals in 73 top flight matches for 1899 Hoffenheim, which included a significant spell on the sidelines in the 2009/10 season. He enjoyed a reasonably good spell at West Ham, as his record of seven goals in twelve league games in a relegated team shows. But this only tells half the story. He went on a run of one goal in seven games, and at a crucial time in West Ham’s season too as they drifted towards the drop. He never showed his best form at the Boleyn Ground. Ba did show that he could something from nothing, and was badly let down by the service from his team-mates, but only offered glimpses of being an excellent player.
At Newcastle, however, it’s clear that Ba is flourishing. His new team is far more fluid and attacking than his old one, and he’s had much better service. Yohann Cabaye has excelled as the playmaker, and Ba has had a lot of joy from crosses and centres this season too.
Much of the reason for Ba’s rapid ascent lies in that Alan Pardew has mostly opted for two out-and-out strikers rather than one, and a key feature of Newcastle’s play this season is to have the strikers in the box to take chances when they come. Much of the rest of the play is geared towards creating the chances, through crosses or centres, for the strikers in goalscoring positions at close range. Much like Freiburg.
Take Demba Ba’s two hat-tricks this season, against Blackburn and Stoke. He scored all six (one penalty) from within 12 yards of goal, and almost exclusively from a cross or a centre. Newcastle had three shots in the Stoke game and scored three goals. Pardew puts great emphasis on the role of his strikers as match-winners. Choosing two strikers rather than, say, a No. 10, a link-up player like Hatem Ben Arfa, is a clear example of where he sees his goals coming from. But Pardew’s strikers are not just poachers. Ba, Leon Best and Shola Ameobi have six assists between them too.
So factor Pardew’s ideas on the importance of the strikers in with Cissé’s prolific goal scoring and playing style, and it’s a very promising proposition indeed. The striker will also offer a new dimension with his pace, and the club will be hopeful of keeping up their excellent progress with the help their new signing. Indeed, Newcastle seem to be showing a lot of intelligence and awareness in the transfer market, and this signing, at first glance, reflects just that.
A separate question rising from the transfer is where it leaves Freiburg. Bottom of the Bundesliga even with Cissé’s goals, it might appear that instant reinvestment in the attack is needed in order to keep them competitive. But strengthening is also required elsewhere (not least because they already spent a hefty €2million on another striker, Garra Dembélé, in the summer, from whom more goals must be demanded). Freiburg had played a relatively attacking game with Cissé in the team, and leaked goals. Perhaps a change of style, and some defensive reinforcements, are required too. Even so, Cissé’s dependability in terms of appearances and his seeming guarantee of goals will be almost impossible for them to replace. While the huge payday from the transfer leaves their immediate financial future in a much healthier position than before, it makes a difficult job of top tier survival for the club even tougher.
A final point should be made on the implications for the Bundesliga. Heralded of late as über-fertile ground for the development of young Germans, as England casts an envious eye across to its counterpart, the Bundesliga is having some trouble keeping hold if its best foreign players. Three of the league’s biggest stars left in 2011. Edin Dzeko swapped Wolfsburg for Manchester City in January, before two top performers in Nuri Sahin and Arturo Vidal left for Real Madrid and Juventus respectively, while the hugely promising but mostly unfulfilled talent of Diego joined Atletico Madrid from Wolfsburg. In this case, though, Freiburg was hardly the club Cissé was going to spend the rest of his career.
The Bundesliga’s stock may be on the rise, but questions about its growth might be raised if it cannot attract major international talents, without them later seeking bigger opportunities elsewhere.
As for Papiss Cissé, it’s time for the next stage in his career. The tools certainly seem to be in place, both on the part of the player and his new team, for him to thrive at St. James’ Park, and it will be fascinating to see whether Cissé can deliver the goods in the Premier League. Newcastle United might just have grabbed themselves another bargain.