So, will he or won’t he? Mark Douglas attempts to untangle the messiest transfer saga of the summer – the one enveloping Newcastle’s top scorer Demba Ba.
IT was the most forthright of denials, but it came with a sting in the tail.
Contrary to Twitter chat and a couple of over-excited overseas reports, Demba Ba was not about to sign a five-year deal with Turkish Super Lig champions Galatasaray.
He remains a Newcastle United player but over and above that, no one at St James’ Park was prepared to offer such whole-hearted assurances on the future of their top scorer and valued forward.
It is a confusing and frustrating scenario for United, who are already growing frustrated at the number of well-informed newspaper stories that have drawn attention to Ba’s unique contractual status – which means he is free to talk to clubs if a cut-price release clause is met.
So while United continue to insist that no enquiry has been made, they know they are very vulnerable – especially with the prospect of serious money to be made if he decides to depart.
Indeed, a senior source told The Journal yesterday that they suspect meetings in Turkey have taken place, and would be unsurprised if he leaves.
Ba’s family do not come from money and with the striker’s stock so high, it is being viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cast around for lucrative options.
In an ideal world, United would talk directly to Ba or someone close to him to ascertain whether he wants to leave, but this is a very modern tale that underscores the uncertain way in which the modern transfer works.
It can be confusing and intensely frustrating – and there is very little that United can do to stop it.
At the heart of it is the somewhat loose way that transfers work.
While some players have a single trusted and long-standing representative, others operate in a different way.
Some players – usually based overseas – prefer not to be tied down to a single agent and instead will hand out ‘mandates’ for others to work on their behalf. This becomes confusing because in reality, ‘mandates’ are not worth the paper they are written on.
Players can hand out as many as they want in the hope of securing the best possible deal and that, naturally, increases the number of clubs he is being offered to.
The results can sometimes by farcical. One North East club was offered the same player four times last summer – each by a different agent.
They politely declined on each occasion.
Inevitably, that situation jacks up the speculation surrounding the player and sometimes leads to a bidding war.
It also means that for the club that has the player under contract, it is difficult to know which links are genuine and which are simply the product of agents trying to generate interest in their client.
There is a way round it – by getting a player to sign a Representation Contract which enshrines just one agent to work on his behalf. These are sanctioned by Fifa and are something that Newcastle are usually keen on, even if players sometimes shy away from them.
In Ba’s case, it is far from easy to get through the smoke and mirrors and pin-point exactly who is talking for him.
At one point influential UK agent Barry Silkman was said to act on his behalf, while in January the player himself reacted with anger to claims by one Armand Doorn that he represented Ba.
The Senegalese said on Twitter that his agent was Alex Gontran – indeed he insisted he was the only person who could represent him – but yesterday it was Ba’s brother Hamady who was drawn to deny talk of an imminent switch to Turkey.
Whoever it was who worked on the deal to take him to Newcastle, they pulled a masterstroke in negotiating a clause in his contract that allows him to talk to other clubs if an offer under £10million is tabled.
It means Ba, who finished the season with 16 goals after a stunning start to life at St James’ Park, is instantly appealing to clubs.
How many other players, after all, with his record in one of the top European leagues will be available for a reported £7million this summer?
Stung by the uncertainty that Jose Enrique created last summer, Newcastle will try to force Ba into making a decision when he returns for pre-season training at the start of next month.
If he’s back on Tyneside, Alan Pardew will no doubt press him for some sort of commitment to the cause he signed up for a year ago.
But United are realistic, and just as they would have happily allowed his agents to find him a new club if it hadn’t worked out, they know the power is with Ba and his coterie of advisers.
And here is the problem, because no one really knows what the player himself wants.
By the end of the season he had taken to politely declining interviews, and turned down the chance to talk to The Journal after Newcastle’s stunning defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last month.
On that front he was alone, and it is worth pointing out that every other United star linked with a move away has offered an unequivocal assurance that they want to stay on Tyneside.
After playing such a big part in last season’s stellar effort, Ba owes Newcastle nothing.
There are whispers that he was less than enamoured with being moved to the side of a three-man attack towards the end of the season, while he is a strong, intelligent and independent character who is fully aware of the lingering concerns over a knee problem that gave him no problems last season.
At the height of his powers, why would he not look to maximise his money?
United want him to stay but have sourced possible replacements from foreign leagues.
At the moment, talks over a new Newcastle contract have not progressed past the preliminary stages.
At the centre of it remains Ba – the one man yet to declare his hand in what promises to be the longest running transfer saga of the summer.
Trying to crack the striker’s poker face is proving an impossible business at the moment.