Chief sports writer Mark Douglas asks why Papiss Cisse’s form has fallen – and what Newcastle United can do about it.
TWO tunnel tales spaced six months apart tell the story of Papiss Cisse’s Newcastle United career.
Back in May, his emergence from the Magpies dressing room after a close-run defeat at the hands of eventual champions Manchester City was enough to alert the lurking Patrick Vieira.
Cisse was wearing his trademark mile-wide smile and it was merited as Vieira – the Citizens’ influential Football Development Executive – made a beeline for the Newcastle man before chatting animatedly in French about his brilliant start to life in the Premier League.
Vieira’s obvious interest in the Senegal man was enough to raise eyebrows among United’s power brokers, where City’s interest in Cisse had long been acknowledged.
Fast-forward half a year and Cisse cut a disconsolate figure in the same tunnel on Sunday. Hauled off at half-time following an anonymous display against a pedestrian West Ham defence, the striker was showered and changed in time for the start of the second half but at first resisted the call of the substitute’s bench.
This was not a Carlos Tevez-style show of petulance or evidence of a resistance to be part of the Newcastle group, though. Cisse watched the start of the second half from the tunnel apparently deep in thought about another afternoon that had passed him by. For a player whose career has rarely seen such a bad run, these are difficult days.
The problem that United anticipated over the summer was keeping hold of Cisse as the cream of European clubs circled around their five-star discovery. The reality is that they are now desperately searching for a way to re-ignite the burning belief that carried him to his remarkable start in black and white.
The beauty of Cisse when he first joined Newcastle was that he made the impossible look simple. There has never been an introduction to the Premier League as explosive as his: a run of 13 goals scored from every conceivable angle and with every body part imaginable.
As his reputation grew, no one appeared quite sure how to categorise this Senegalese phenomenon. To put a black and white spin on it, he was a mesh of Andy Cole’s predatory instincts and the touch of outlandish magic that made Faustino Asprilla such a joy to watch.
When Cisse met The Journal back in October, the striker was asked the process that went through his mind when he scored his implausible goal at Stamford Bridge in April. Was it that he dared to do things that his striker colleagues didn’t?
Cisse chuckled bashfully when the query was translated to him but his answer sheds light on the player’s thought process.
“I do not imagine things any differently from anyone else but when the ball arrives to me, if it arrives messily or at a different angle I will try to make it beautiful,” he said.
“No matter how messy the pass or how the ball arrives, I want to make it beautiful. In my head I am thinking about the angle – it is an instant thing that does not require me to think. I just see how to put the ball in the back of the net without worrying.
“I am not on a mission to score more goals like the Chelsea goal, although that was a special moment. I get as much joy from scoring from five yards as I do from 40 yards.