Whilst the surprise return to form of United has pleased all of a Black & White persuasion, one question surely lingering at the back of most of our minds is ‘what has happened to Papiss Cisse?’ Not only is this being muttered in the concourses of St James’ but it’s also being asked here in Senegal. Saturday’s edition of Stades, a weekly sports paper, ran with the headline: ‘Ineffective at club and national level: Papiss is no longer up to pace’. Inside, the journalist Bacary Cisse (no relation presumably) reveals some information that may interest those of you asking the aforementioned question.
The article is set in the context following Senegal’s 4-2 defeat to Cote D’Ivoire last Saturday in Casablanca, when Les Lions de Teranga fought bravely but ultimately failed to overthrow the 3-1 deficit from the first leg in Abidjan. Previously Cisse’s national performances were at the same level we saw during his prolific start to life in Black and White – in fact, he finished this World Cup qualifying campaign as the joint-second top goalscorer in Africa. Unfortunately for Papiss and Senegal his recent abject club performances began to follow him into the national level. Although he scored in Abidjan last month his overall performance was ineffective and his contributions to general team play insubstantial.
Interestingly one of the questions raised by the journalist in Stades is ‘Is Cisse’s form suffering as a result of losing the captain’s armband following the appointment of Alain Giresse?’ This theory is then debunked somewhat by tale from Les Lions recent training camp which may raise a few Geordie eyebrows. According to (Bacary) Cisse’s article: ‘Giresse invested special attention on his star striker from the first day of training in El Jadida, Morocco. He spoke several times to the player individually and on the Friday before the match, when other outfield players had finished training, gave Papiss the chance of extra attacking drills and shooting practice against Bouna Coundoul, Issa Ndoye and Cheikh Tidiane N’diaye (the Senegalese goalkeepers). However it was the goalkeepers who were given confidence and enthusiasm, saving all of the attempts of the Magpies striker’. The article is then finished with a hesitant vote of confidence stating ‘Papiss still has the trust of Giresse, his teammates and the Senegalese public. It’s over to him to prove that he is still a serial goalscorer capable of being on fire on front of goal’.
This article has left me with more questions than answers over how Papiss gets back to his best, but it’s a topic of immense importance to Newcastle United and will become moreso as his goal drought continues. Furthermore, whilst we’re all enjoying Loic Remy’s goals we have no indication that United have a deal in place for the player (something that Kinnear and Pardew would no doubt be crowing over if it existed). And let’s be honest, the better he plays for us the more he is pricing himself out of a move to NUFC under the stewardship (or should that be self-interest) of Mike Ashley. With his contract running until 2017, long after Loic Remy will likely be at the club, we should be yearning for an on-form and firing Papiss Cisse just as much as his compatriots in Dakar want it, if not moreso.
In a previous blog I placed the vast majority, if not all, of the blame at Alan Pardew’s door for implementing a style of play the polar opposite to the strengths of Papiss Cisse. In my opinion, that problem still exists – would you choose Papiss in any of the positions currently available in our frontline? He’s as hard-working as Gouffran but not as apt out wide. He is not a target man and certainly not as effective in the role that Shola Ameobi is currently proving in the side. I recently read that of the 78 players last season who contested over 100 aerial duels he had the worst success rate (28%). However, to be fair to Pardew, he has changed the team’s style this season and (recently at least) to great effect. He would rightly be lambasted for changing the shape of a side that has just beaten Chelsea, Spurs and now Norwich. So now Papiss must compete with the in-form Loic Remy, who has a World Cup to go to. It has to be said Papiss has come up woefully short so far this season. Despite the aforementioned statistic I delight in watching him bring down well-hit passes deftly and link up the midfield and attack but it seems a long time since he produced that for 90 minutes rather than glimpses. His only option now is to graft in training, earn back the confidence of Pardew and take his first team chances when they come. I disagree with those who claim that Cisse will never return to the levels we have seen in 2012, however I concede that the player has raised a lot of these question by his fitful performances and, like Stades’ Bacary Cisse, I conclude that it’s over to him to disprove the doubters.
For me he potentially has the unpredictability and a clinical nature in front of goal to hold a place in our esteems as high as someone such as Tino Asprilla, without ever bothering the Parthenon of our greatest ever strikers. Unfortunately of late he’s been more comparable to Michael Chopra (and not just due to a penchant for spending free time in Aspers). Perhaps the most anecdotal answer to the question I began with comes from Elimane, a colleague whose (already lofty) admiration of Cisse trebled when I told him about Papiss seeing ‘Miss Newcastle’ and insists with a cheeky smile that Cisse’s lack of form must be down to ‘off the pitch fatigue’. Although he has offered to find me ‘Miss Dakar’ in return for the hospitality Newcastle has afforded his compatriot, I’d sooner see Papiss scoring in Black and White and getting back to the levels expected by his club, his country and undoubtedly himself.