Article by David Bak
For me, loving a player rarely correlates with how good they are at football. Never has this sentiment been truer than with big Cheikh N’Doye and from what I can gather, it isn’t just me who feels it. How has he managed to have such a poor season yet still win people’s hearts?
Upon his arrival from Angers, not many of us had heard of the Senegalese man mountain. I certainly hadn’t, but some quick research revealed his selection in a 2016/17 best over-30s XI. Suddenly, it seemed like we’d pulled off a real coup. There he was, brushing shoulders with Iniesta and Ronaldo. Surely there must have been a mistake – why was he joining Blues?
It soon became clear. It pains me to say it but the first few months of his Blues career held some of the worst performances we’ve seen in recent memory. His defensive instincts were clear to see but everything was just too fast for him. The signals travelling from his brain to his feet were arriving later than a Royal Mail parcel. Countless wayward passes ensued, the opposition pounced and so did his own fans.
This is the part I still don’t really understand. At Blues, we have a long-standing tradition of giving grief to talented yet faint-hearted players. Names like David Cotterill, Jesper Gronkjaer, and even an autumn 2017 Jota spring to mind. I’m not the biggest fan of it, but I suppose it makes sense; the one thing a gritty, humble fan base wants to see is absolute commitment to the cause.
So why did people turn on such a hard worker? Was he just that bad? To me, even at his worst, he seemed like the direct antithesis to the players we usually heckle. In fact, he’s one of the most professional players I can remember at the club. Despite the ironic cheers when he made a pass, and genuine cheers when he got substituted, he always seemed to be the last one left clapping the fans at the end of proceedings. To me, that showed a remarkable level of character – certainly more than I’d have managed to muster.
As a result of his poor form, before Christmas, I felt like the only Cheikh N’Doye fan in the Second City. I’d argue that Steve Cotterill wasn’t helping though – if good technical footballers were struggling in his system, what chance did a player like N’Doye have?
However, as the season progressed, things started to change. He was making the unlikely segway from laughing stock to cult-hero. His penalty box summit with John Terry at high-noon seemed to be a turning point for some – he was finally one of us. Video diaries were increasingly full of fans desperate for him to rise at the back post and power in a winner and this time, the sentiment was genuine.
Garry Monk’s arrival helped the situation somewhat. His brand of football suits the big man much better; he finally has somebody within 50 yards of him willing to receive the ball. I’ve even spotted a couple of first-time flicks and passes!
Don’t get me wrong of course, he hasn’t blossomed into Patrick Vieira. He certainly isn’t the liability he once was though, and dare I say it, in recent weeks he’s actually been quite an asset as a serious squad member.
Realistically though, I know he’ll probably be let go this summer. There’ll be a big focus on freeing up funds and his high wages and ever-advancing age make him a prime target.
Until he leaves though, I’m sure I’ll still have that recurring dream where he has a colossal 2018/19 season, captaining us to 100 points. Is this a good omen or do I need to lay off the Dairy Lea before bed?
In any case, I certainly won’t forget him. He makes me nostalgic for a time when football was full of characters, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why he sticks out like a sore thumb in the sterile world of modern football.
In spite of huge adversity and very little success, he has given us everything in every performance. His attitude should be the benchmark for all of our future signings. He plays for Blues like he’s supported them all of his life and to me, that is exactly what a Blues player should do.
If these are his last couple of weeks, let’s hope our very own BFG leaves us with a memorable parting gift.