Something that initially inspired now appears to have morphed into a crippling load for Papiss Cisse, the Newcastle United number 9 shirt.
The shirt that adorns his torso on match days may have the same single digit etched onto it that the great Alan Shearer proudly displayed for a decade, but for the man currently in possession it is a reminder of lofty expectations thus far unfulfilled.
From Cole to Cisse, Newcastle United have been blessed with some special number nines. Inevitably with the responsibility and expectation comes an elevation of pressure, my theory is that replacing Papiss as the standard bearer for goal grabbing at the end of this season might actually set him free from the shadows of those former greats.
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So, first let’s take a look at those who have worn the number nine shirt during the Premier League era and their records in the top flight. All stats apply only to Premier League matches with the famous figure on their back.
Andy Cole (1993-95)
Premier League: 58 games, 43 goals.
‘Cole the goal’ arrived from Bristol City for £1.75m at the tail end of the 1992-93 promotion campaign. Netting a dozen goals in as many games ensured that he immediately endeared himself to the Geordie faithful.
Having been sold by Arsenal at the age of almost 21, question marks remained over whether the jet-heeled hit man could repeat his impressive feats in the top flight.
He answered any sceptics by forming a memorable partnership with Peter Beardsley, as Newcastle took the league by storm, finishing third with Cole notching a still unbeaten (although equalled by a certain A.Shearer) 34 Premiership strikes.
The following season began in the same vein, although the goals did dry up for a few matches before he was shockingly sold to title rivals Manchester United for £6.25m plus Keith Gillespie, with the Toon opting to leave the number nine vacant until the end of the season.
Overall: 9/10. An incredible signing, whose departure had fans lined up outside the club’s doors in protest.
Les Ferdinand (1995-96)
Premier League: 37 games, 25 goals.
Eventually a new talisman was signed to replace Cole, and a very good one at that.
From the moment that ‘Sir’ Les Ferdinand struck a well-taken debut goal against Coventry City, he was adored by fans on the terraces.
A £6m signing from QPR, Ferdy’s almost telepathic partnership with David Ginola and clever link up play with Beardsley meant that he had 20 goals in all competitions by Christmas in his only season as the number nine.
As the team began to struggle, so the goals dried up for the side’s main striker, who managed only nine more by the season’s curtain call. Still, he won the PFA player of the year award as Kevin Keegan’s side let a twelve point lead slip to finish as runners-up.
That summer in an unusual move, Ferdinand was asked to vacate the shirt and take the number ten instead, which he (possibly begrudgingly) did. In his one campaign as the main man he had been sensational, ending with 25 Premier League strikes.
8/10: In the one season that he wore the number nine, Sir Les was a dynamic force to be reckoned with.
Alan Shearer (1996-2006)
Premier League: 303 games, 148 goals.
The most exciting striker in Europe had come home, winning the Premier League golden boot in his inaugural term in black and white (31 matches, 25 goals), before injury struck in a pre-season match at Goodison Park the following summer.
Shearer returned prematurely to aid a barely plausible relegation battle, initially playing from memory in a team now shorn of the creative talents of Ferdinand, Ginola, Beardsley and Tino Asprilla.
FA Cup goals came easily enough, but the for the next 18 months Shearer’s league form dried up. Worse than that, the newly appointed Ruud Gullit didn’t fancy him as a player, benching him for the miserable home Tyne-Wear derby match in 1999-2000.
Fortunately for Al and Newcastle, Sir Bobby Robson soon replaced the Dutchman and saved the Toon career of the England captain, who scored a record equalling five goals in the veteran manager’s first home match at the helm.
Fittingly, Shearer’s final goal was against the Mackems.
9/10: There were highs and lows, but Shearer is quite rightly the benchmark for modern day Newcastle United number nines.
Obafemi Martins (2006-09)
Premier League: 88 games, 28 goals.
With the original plan of ‘promoting’ Michael Owen to the number nine shirt scuppered by an anterior cruciate ligament suffered by the club’s record signing at the 2006 World Cup, Glenn Roeder decided to award the honour to new £10m recruit, Obafemi Martins.
It didn’t start well, as the Nigerian took time to settle after his transfer from Inter Milan. There were also constant questions about his age, with some claiming that the diminutive front man was as much as six years older than his claimed age of 21!
The shackles were broken with a first league goal at West Ham and some sparkling displays in Europe.
Thereafter followed three seasons of erratic performances, punctuated by breathtaking goals and a selfish lack of awareness.
In Oba’s final season on Tyneside, the club were relegated, with the high profile trio of Martins, Owen and Mark Viduka all lacking aptitude in the face of adversity, Unsurprisingly all three departed soon after, with Martins the only one fetching a fee, around £9m, as he headed to the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg.
6/10: Moments of magic were diluted by regularly indifferent showings and the club’s relegation in his final season.
Andy Carroll (2010-11)
Premier League: 19 games, 11 goals.
Chris Hughton had chosen not to assign the number nine shirt to anyone during the 2009-10 promotion campaign, instead urging the candidates to prove that they were worthy of such a badge of honour.
Carroll was the man who impressed the most, thriving in the Championship after a sluggish start, to end with 17 league goals in English football’s second tier.
A sublime hat-trick against Aston Villa in the Toon’s first home match back among the elite cemented Carroll as a worthy recipient. The good form continued, as the local lad struck 11 Premier League goals before Christmas, including a fantastic 25-yarder against Liverpool.
That might have been the decisive factor in former Toon boss Kenny Dalglish’s uncharacteristically risky pursuit of the 6 foot 3 inch attacker, with the eventual fee of just over £35m weighing heavily on the relatively unproven 22 year-old.
Injuries and patchy form have since undermined the lanky Geordie’s talents, with half a season of brilliance for his hometown club increasingly looking like an isolated spell in an otherwise mediocre career. The large fee received has long been championed as one of the greatest sales in the history of English football.
7/10: While he wore number nine in black and white he was electric, sadly that provided only a fleeting glimpse of potential, which three years on has yet to be replicated by the player.
Papiss Demba Cisse (2012-present)
Premier League: 66 games, 22 goals.
His Senegalese team-mate arrived from Freiburg for £9.5m, having lit up the Bundesliga in a fairly poor side and snubbing Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland in the process.
If that ingratiated the 26 year-old forward to his new supporters, what soon followed easily trumped it, as 13 goals were struck in a dazzling opening 12 starts as a Magpie, most of them howitzers or conjured from instinctive brilliance.
Ba though was far from happy according to one of his many agents. In order to accommodate the new man’s arrival, the original Demba had been played in a wide-left position, drawing a blank in his final 14 league outings of the season.
With Ba reinstated to a central position, Cisse was now the one pushed wider, stifling the previously prolific forward, who has managed a meagre 9 league goals in his last 53 league appearances and looks likely to be shown the door during this summer’s transfer window.
5/10: After a sublime launch, Cisse has endured a torrid time for the most part. It is sad to watch, as he’s clearly a gifted footballer.
I was surprised to find that only half a dozen players have worn the number nine for Newcastle United in the Premier League, although Shearer’s ten-year occupancy obviously accounts for about half of our tenure at that level.
The question is, if Cisse does get sold or vacate the shirt, then who are the likely candidates to fill the void? In my opinion there are a clutch of potential suitors at this point:
Loic Remy: Would be an ideal successor to Cisse if he signed a full-time deal with the club. He has the talent and swagger to wear it with pride. Sadly, the player seems reluctant.
Luuk De Jong: A good loan spell could lead to the Dutch forward being presented with the number synonymous with the pivotal attacker in the squad.
Bafetimbi Gomis: Much sought after Frenchman, with the media speculating that Mike Ashley has him lined up as a Bosman addition in the summer. He has the presence and ability to prove a worthy centrepiece, at almost 29 might be a decent short-term option, without the hassle of negotiating a transfer fee.
Jordan Rhodes: One of my own picks, his goal scoring feats in the lower leagues surely warrant somebody taking a risk on him. His international record isn’t too shabby so far either.
Demba Ba: He chose the number 19 first time round, if he returned would the first digit be removed? With chances at Chelsea limited he may welcome a return to his former club, but, like Gomis, is 29 years of age and would cost around £7m, so might not be a realistic target for the current regime.
Alan Armstrong: The new Rooney? Let’s not get carried away just yet, despite the hype surrounding the young prodigy. Maybe not his time to inherit the shirt just yet, although that will hopefully arrive further down the line if he continues to develop and remain injury free.
I want Papiss Cisse to succeed as Newcastle’s main man, it would be very disappointing to see him drift away for a few million pounds following that thrilling early burst of wonder goals.
Perhaps the last resort is to give him the number ten or 99… Far from punishment, that might provide freedom for a man who looks completely bereft of confidence at this point in his career on Tyneside.