Club Focus – Stoke – Will Demba Ba return to haunt the Potters?

Many an envious glance has been cast from the Potteries in the direction of East London recently, and it has nothing to do with the Olympic Stadium. Demba Ba, at one point seemingly all but confirmed a Stoke player in early January, has been banging in the goals for a rejuvenated West Ham, and all the more gallingly for the Potters, first impressions suggest that he is exactly the type of striker that they themselves are crying out for. Pacey, powerful and deadly in the air and on the ground, he could have been the heir to Ricardo Fuller that Stoke desperately seek.

Initially, it seemed that Stoke had unquestionably made the right decision in pulling out of the deal for Ba. A fee of £7.1m and personal terms had reportedly been agreed before a medical revealed a long-standing knee problem – the same injury that scuppered the player’s planned move to Stuttgart in 2009. Fitness concerns, coupled with question marks over the player’s attitude after he went on strike from his Bundesliga club Hoffenheim in order to try and force his move to England, suggested that the Potters were right to opt out. Unlike deep-in-the-mire West Ham, this was one particular gamble that they could afford not to take.

Just over a month later, however, and the waters are a little murkier. Stoke have since sold Tuncay and Eidur Gudjohnsen, while Fuller has fallen out of favour. This has left a shallow pool of three target men to cover the two forward roles in Tony Pulis’ system – John Carew, Kenwyne Jones and Jon Walters, meaning there is very little variety in attack. Consequently, the Staffordshire side are finding goals from open play – indeed goals in general – hard to come by. They have scored just nine league goals in 2011, just two of which came from strikers.

Adding insult to injury, West Ham were able to acquire Ba for a fraction of the fee that Stoke had agreed with Hoffenheim. After the striker allegedly once again fell foul of a medical, the Hammers were able to negotiate a rumoured initial deal of £500,000, with further cash dependent on appearances, and the African star signed a three and a half year deal. The low fee surely owed much to the late stage of the transfer window and Hoffenheim’s desperation to offload a player who had well and truly burned his bridges. Nevertheless, it remains curious that Stoke’s attempts to similarly restructure the deal after the original transfer collapsed were seemingly given short shrift. Hoffenheim Technical Director Ernst Tanner accused the Potters of making “an element of show” out of the medical issue, hinting at frustration with the Potters’ negotiators.

It remains to be seen if Demba Ba can maintain his fine early form and fire West Ham to safety. But with an important league match with the Hammers immediately followed by an FA Cup quarter final between the sides, Stoke will pray that they are not given a first hand look at what they missed out on.

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