DEMBA BA admits it is “unfortunate” that next year’s African Cup of Nations will force him to miss part of Newcastle’s season.
But likening the event to the European Championships, the Senegal international has asked United fans to be understanding of his desire to experience “one of the biggest honours in the game”.
Ba has proved an instant hit at St James’ Park following his arrival as a free agent in the summer, scoring eight goals in 12 appearances - including hat-tricks against Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City.
However, the 28th African Cup of Nations – in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon – runs from January 21 to February 12, with Senegal facing Group A rivals Zambia on the tournament’s opening day, hosts Equatorial Guinea on January 25 and Libya four days later.
That means Ba will definitely miss Newcastle’s Premier League trip to Fulham on January 21 and, depending how well Senegal fare, fixtures against Blackburn, Aston Villa and Tottenham.
Subject to his country’s pre-tournament plans, he also seems likely to be absent for United’s home game against QPR on January 15 and possibly their FA Cup third round tie earlier in the month.
Should they progress to the fourth round at the end of January, he may miss that too. But while “disappointed” at the prospect of leaving Tyneside for up to six weeks, Ba is determined to play his part in Senegal’s attempt to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time, having been runners-up in 2002.
“I understand why Newcastle supporters are disappointed that I will be away for a few weeks at the African Cup of Nations, but I hope they also understand why it is so important to me to play in it,” he said.
“Senegal is my nation and back home in Senegal, it would mean so much to the people if we were to do well in the competition.
“Playing for your country is still one of the biggest honours in the game, and when it is in a major tournament, it is even more special.
“I want to go there and try to help my team-mates and my country win the competition.
“Next summer, everyone over here will be getting excited about England playing in the European Championships. Well this is the same for us.
“It is exactly the same importance, it is just unfortunate that it happens during the Premier League season. It is a shame I will have to miss some Newcastle games.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle starlet Jeff Henderson has extended his loan spell at Gateshead for a further month. The 19-year-old centre-back impressed during an initial month at the International Stadium, deputising while captain Ben Clark was sidelined by a hamstring strain.
He made five appearances for the Tynesiders, scoring the winner on his debut, a 1-0 victory at Ebbsfleet United, and though Clark has returned from injury, Gateshead manager Ian Bogie was keen to acquire Henderson’s services for another four weeks.
“Henderson proved a capable deputy while Ben Clark was injured and we are delighted that he will be staying at Gateshead for another month,” Bogie said.
A loophole in the arrangement – a ‘youth loan’ – allows Henderson to represent both Gateshead and United’s reserve team during the loan period.