Tourist trials, ultra ink and pay cuts: the unconventional career of Dame N'Doye
The January transfer window has a reputation for facilitating over-indulgent and expensive deals. Since its introduction in 2003, it's proved difficult to sign a half-decent player without paying over the odds: for every instant hero like Christophe Dugarry, there's a Fernando Torres – poster boys of the costly catastrophe that the average winter signing can turn out to be.
Indeed, this year's major signing, Wilfried Bony, has struggled for form and fitness since joining Manchester City from Swansea. But standing in sharp contrast to him at the other end of the spending spectrum is Hull City's Dame N'Doye, the 30-year old journeyman with five league goals in 10 appearances following his cut-price move from Lokomotiv Moscow. The Tigers' survival hopes largely rest on the Senegalese striker.
N'Doye may be having the best of times right now but his career has been circuitous, filled with twists, turns and unconventional moves. He didn't start out at an academy, which possibly explains why he went unnoticed by the hordes of scouts who frequent the west African nation in search of a bargain. At 21 years of age, N'Doye was still on the books of Dakar-based ASC Jeanne D'Arc, who at the time were the leading force in Senegal's Premier League. Most Francophone-African players usually tread the well-worn path of Ligue 1 when going abroad, but in N'Doye's case it was entirely different. In 2006 he took the unorthodox decision to join Qatari side Al-Sadd for a meagre £450,000.
It was the maiden move of a career that has so far taken in eight spells in as many countries. Qatar is often thought of as a retirement destination for the modern footballer, but for N'Doye it was a stepping stone in an evolving career – or so he hoped when he left home for the Gulf nation.
N'Doye spent only the 2005/06 season there as Al-Sadd claimed the title, and despite a return of 12 goals in 27 games he was on the move again, this time signing for Portuguese side Academica Coimbra.
If moving to Al-Sadd was unusual, the manner in which he earned himself a move to Academica was even more left-field. His lesser-known elder brother Ousmane (still playing in Romania's top flight aged 37) was plying his trade in Portugal at the time. Dame visited on holiday, and one day he turned up at Academica's offices without invitation and demanded a trial with the first team.
The club agreed and manager Manuel Machado was pleased with what he saw. N'Doye signed a contract, and the local press was awash with tales of a tourist who got signed by an elite-level club.
N'Doye's stats in the 2006/07 season, however, weren't so impressive with only four goals in 25 appearances. The problem, though, was positional. Machado believed he was more suitable in a midfield role because of his unmatched work ethic and upper-body strength. "Dame is one of the best investments Academica has made," Machado said at the time, although the recipient of such praise didn't even know what his best position was. "I've played everywhere," N'Doye told the Portuguese press.
Porto showed interest in summer 2007 but instead the maverick striker moved to Greek giants Panathinaikos. Pana's Portuguese gaffer Jose Peseiro signed him primarily to play in midfield, but the Senegalese endured an inconsistent debut campaign. Peseiro was forced to resign after just a season, with a 4-0 loss to arch rivals Olympiakos contributing to the team's failure to win the league.
The appointment of former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant Henk ten Cate in summer 2008 sealed N'Doye's fate in Athens. "I was sent away without any reason, and nobody explained anything to me. I don't even know if it was a loan deal or they sold me," said the striker.
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And so he went to OFI Crete in what proved to be the turning point of an increasingly nomadic career. With seven goals in 15 games as a centre-forward, the coaching staff acknowledged he was being wasted in midfield and nudged him back up front. Unfortunately for Crete, they didn't enjoy his scoring exploits for long – true to type, N'Doye moved again, this time to FC Copenhagen for £1.75 million in January 2009 after only six months in Crete.
Copenhagen and N'Doye turned out to be a match made in heaven. The Senegalese flourished in Denmark's capital, netting 93 times in 154 appearances between 2009 and 2012. The striker showed incredible aerial strength, a decent first touch and, perhaps most importantly, his positioning was excellent. Effectively he was some sort of Ruud van Nistelrooy predator, first to every loose ball.
The 2010/11 season was N'Doye's most prolific – he finished as the league's top scorer with 25 goals in 31 games, three shy of the national record of 28 plundered in by Ebbe Sand in 1997/98. His club also beat the Danish Superliga's points record as they finished with 81, 26 more than second-placed OB Odense.
The striker scored vital goals in Europe against BATE Borisov (in the third qualifying round) and in the group stage proper against Rubin Kazan. And in a classic case of revenge being served cold, he netted against Panathinaikos in a 2-0 victory in Athens. Copenhagen became the first Danish side to reach the last 16 of the Champions League before being knocked out by Chelsea courtesy of two Nicolas Anelka goals.
N'Doye was naturally expected to progress onto greater things but he played on for one more season at the Telia Parken, scoring 18 times to retain his crown as the country's top marksman.
During the campaign he became a cult hero among the fans and even tattooed the logo of Urban Crew, the club's largest ultras group, on his arm. "It [the tattoo] is a symbol of the support he received from us when he arrived at the club and had a tough time," they said of their beloved striker's ink.
For the first time in his career away from home, the self-styled 'King in the Air' had spent more than one season at a club. But by now he was ready for another move. With reported interest from Newcastle and Everton, it seemed the perfect time for the prolific hitman to fulfil his ambition of playing in England.
But N'Doye, not famed for conventional career moves, signed for Lokomotiv Moscow in a £4.4m deal. Many saw it as a financially-motivated move – unsurprisingly with talk of an £80,000 per week contract.
N'Doye got his Lokomotiv career off to a flyer with goals against city rivals Dynamo and Spartak, plus another against Zenit Saint Petersburg, in his first five games. He quickly established himself as the club's first choice centre-forward, condemning new arrival Roman Pavlyuchenko to a place on the bench.
Just as in Denmark, the Senegalese was hugely popular within Lokomotiv's fanbase. The legendary Moscow-based sports daily Sovetsky Sport described him as "one of Lokomotiv's most unusual legionnaires [the Russian term for foreigners]".
It was always unlikely that N'Doye would match his stellar efforts for Copenhagen in Russia but he scored regularly, with 27 goals in a two-and-a-half year stint.
With age catching up on him, there remained one last burning ambition: playing in the Premier League. His form for Lokomotiv at the tail end of 2014 was unspectacular and both parties realised that a parting was imminent sooner rather than later. Leicester were keen in the summer, but a move failed to materialise.
But one to Hull in January did. In a farewell message to Lokomotiv fans, the striker explained: "Playing in England has been my dream, and I worked to achieve it when playing in Portugal, Greece, Denmark and Russia. It was a tough decision, but I am almost 30. Please understand me. I believe in myself."
Steve Bruce flew to Paris to finalise a £2m deal, and N'Doye moved to East Yorkshire on the final day of the winter transfer window. The modern footballer is often accused of being greedy and money-grabbing but, like the other decisions in his career, N'Doye took yet another surprising one: he accepted a huge wage slash, earning him effusive praise from Bruce.
"I've never seen anybody take as big a pay cut as what Dame did, he wanted to play in England," said the Tigers chief. "Footballers are often criticised for being mercenaries but he took a substantial wage cut to come and join us, which I am so pleased he has done. Hopefully he'll get it back. We'll get the money back to him if he keeps producing – he will earn a new contract either with us or somewhere else."
Last weekend, N'Doye's brace led the Tigers to a crucial 2-0 win at Crystal Palace which kept them above the drop zone. After following that up with a shock win over Liverpool, the Humberside club go into the home stretch with crunch clashes against Arsenal, Burnley, Tottenham and Manchester United to come.
Bruce will hope his bargain acquisition's blend of pace, intelligence and aerial strength will be enough to see them over the line. If it is, N'Doye will be able to count the KC Stadium faithful among his many fans.