Cisse proving a big hit at Newcastle
They have seen Papiss Cisse's like before. They know what it is to cherish a number nine in these parts. But though this is the club of Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Jackie Milburn, it is Andy Cole who springs immediately to mind when the Newcastle United supporters watch Cisse play. Not since Cole have Newcastle boasted a striker so potent, so direct and so gloriously uncomplicated.
At six foot, Cisse isn't quite big enough to be a looming target man and early evidence doesn't suggest that he's going to drift deep like a false nine either. He seems to be, purely, simply and for want of a better phrase, a goal muncher. Like Cole before him, he lurks on the shoulder of his marker, coiled and tensed, waiting for the moment to spring into action. Like Cole, when the moment comes, he rarely wastes it. He needs little in the way of room or preparation to place his shot, he can release the ball with barely any backlift and, as Liverpool found out, he's quite competent with his head as well. Cole was damned by then-England boss Glenn Hoddle as a man who needed "six or seven chances to score" when he was at Manchester United, but that always seemed rather harsh. At St James' Park, at least up until his problems with shin splints, he was a goal machine. Cisse is Newcastle 's Cole reborn.
A snip at just £9 million ($14M) in January, Cisse would have been a bargain whatever the context, but when you factor in the fortunes of the man he was bought to replace, he looks like the deal of the century. If £35M ($55M) Andy Carroll, who once seemed to be a legendary Newcastle number nine in waiting, had any illusions about his popularity in his native Northeast, they were obliterated by the ferocity of his reception at the weekend. The Newcastle fans don't miss him, they don't need him and they don't particularly like him. The roar of delight for his early substitution was almost as loud as the roar for either of Cisse's goals. While Carroll's form last season suggests that he is not a write-off just yet, he has, thus far, failed miserably at Anfield, scoring just five goals in 36 appearances. Cisse has outscored him already, with seven in seven.
To make matters even more pleasing for the Toon fans, Cisse is now reaping the benefits of a tactical shift that wasn't even designed with him in mind. For much of the season, Newcastle have played with a rigid 4-4-2, moving the ball quickly and efficiently, using the speed of Jonas Gutierrez or Gabriel Obertan on the flanks, while never being afraid to crash the ball through the middle. In Demba Ba, a Senegalese international like Cisse, they had a complete striker to aim at. Ba has a wonderful ability to bring a long, swiftly moving ball under control by slipping out a foot and sucking it into his orbit, sometimes on the turn and occasionally, just to show off, in midair. The only problem was Hatem Ben Arfa. The French playmaker is one of the most talented footballers at the club, but has struggled to settle since returning from a long term injury. Despite his reputation for bad behavior, Ben Arfa has coped with his time on the periphery well, never seeking to undermine the team by moaning about it to the press. And yet, it must have rankled to be marginalized because of his inability to play on the side of the 4-4-2 or tucked behind the striker in a 4-5-1. With that in mind, Pardew has begun to experiment with a loose 4-3-3. Out to the left flank goes Ba, Ben Arfa is given the freedom to drift between the center and the right and Cisse wins the central role. While it's hard not to feel sorry for Ba, there can be no doubt that Pardew's Plan B has worked a treat. Cisse thrives on the supply and the last two games have resulted in two wins.
Cisse, of course, is unlikely to continue to score goals at the rate of one per game. Indeed, if he did, he might quickly follow his predecessor Cole's trail to Old Trafford and that's not something this club's supporters want to contemplate. For now, it is enough to know that their cherished shirt has been passed on to another worthy pair of shoulders. It is also enough to know that their club's policy of through and widespread scouting is paying more dividends than the "English Premium" policy adopted by Liverpool. For Carroll, see Cisse, for Jordan Henderson, see Yohan Cabaye. For Newcastle, see a brighter future.