Hull striker Dame N’Doye's remarkable journey to the EPL

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  • Dame N'Doye has hit the ground running since joining Steve Bruce's Hull City.

    Dame N’Doye has finally fulfilled his most sacred dream. The Senegalese has always wanted to play in the Premier League, but had to wait and go on a very unusual journey to reach the destination. As he assisted Nikica Jelavic and then scored himself from close range like a born penalty area predator in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa on his full debut for Hull City, one couldn’t help wondering: why did it take him so long? 
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    In an era when European scouts are constantly searching throughout Africa for young talents, N’Doye’s route to recognition was very different. He wasn’t on the books of any of the academies, and was never really noticed when playing for Dakar club named Jeanne D’Arc, probably because he wasn’t a starter. 

    Usually stars go to Qatari league when they are nearing the end of their illustrious careers, but for N’Doye it was exactly the opposite. At the age of 21, Al Sadd gave him the first opportunity to leave his homeland and earn a decent living.

    The club paid just €500,000 for his services in 2006, but eventually that didn’t work out for either of the sides. The Senegalese felt disappointed and underrated, and a few months later started looking thinking of trying his luck elsewhere. He was quite inventive and bold in doing so.

    Dame N'Doye (top row, second left) pictured for Senegal in this year's African Cup of Nations.

    Dame’s brother Ousmane played in Portugal those days, and the youngster came to visit him on a vacation. Whilst there, N’Doye went to Academica Coimbra’s offices without invitation and asked them for a trial with the first team. The club agreed, Academica coach Manuel Machado was impressed with what he saw, and soon the press reported about a tourist who got a professional contract at a first division club.

    An onlooker is unlikely to be impressed with N’Doye’s stats in 2006/07, as he only scored four goals in 25 appearances, but such an impression would be extremely misleading, because he didn’t play as a stiker. Dame couldn’t even say what is his best position is. “I’ve played everywhere”, he told Portuguese journalists about his experience.

    Machado preferred to use his stamina and work ethics in midfield, and N’Doye proved to be dangerous with powerful shots from distance, as this wonderful strike against Beira Mar illustrates.

    “Dame is one of the best investments Academica has made”, Machado claimed and predicted that a good transfer fee will be paid for him. He was right. Porto wanted to sign the new star in the summer of 2007 and were negotiating a deal, but N’Doye eventually preferred to go to Panathinaikos. The Greek giants acquired the Senegalese as their new midfield hope, and the expectations were huge.

    N’Doye was rather inconsistent in his first season in Athens under Jose Peseiro, but Panathinaikos replaced the Portuguese specialist with Henk Ten Cate in the summer of 2008, and the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant coach immediately discarded the Senegalese. The club offloaded him to OFI Crete, and the player was furious. “I was sent away without any reason, and nobody explained anything to me.

    “I don’t even know if they sold me or was it a loan deal”, N’Doye said, describing Ten Cate as arrogant and egocentric. 

    In  retrospect, that actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Dame. OFI used him in a much more advanced position, he duly scored seven goals in his first 15 games, and FC Copenhagen signed him just six months after he left Panathinaikos.Having understood their mistake, the Greens desperately tried to sign him back before he went to Denmark, but N’Doye naturally didn’t want to hear anything about it.

    It is in Copenhagen, after attack-minded coach Stale Solbakken gave him all the confidence he needed, that N’Doye transformed into a true striker. At the age of 24 he found his best position, and started to bang in goal after goal. The Danes fell in love with his athleticism and heading abilities, and witnessed him netting 14 times in 2009/10. 

    The following season, 2010/11 was especially productive for N’Doye. Not only was he crowned the Superliga top scorer with 25 goals, but he also produced brilliant displays in the Champions League, helping Copenhagen to reach the last 16 for the first time in their history.

    Quite ironically, one of his very best games came in Athens against Panathaikos, as the Danish champions won 2-0. That was perfect revenge for the Senegalese striker. N’Doye also made life difficult for Barcelona in a couple of games at the group stage, and fell victim to a Schumacher-style assault by the Catalan keeper Victor Valdes.

    As time passed by, N’Doye became a cult figure in Copenhagen, and his extremely close relations with the fans resulted in him tattoing the emblem of ultras movement named Urban Crew on his arm. Since the group is known as troublemakers, the club management distanced themselves from such an act, but the forward only became more popular as a result. “We have always been there for him, and he’s been there for us”, Urban Crew said.

    Mutual adoration aside, both sides knew that the star needs to make the next step sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, the destination turned out to be rather surprising. Newcastle and Everton were reportedly keen on signing the Senegalese, but eventually he went to Lokomotiv Moscow in the summer of 2012.

    N’Doye told the Russian press that he sees that as a big step forward, even though some suspected that financial issues proved to be crucial to his decision. 

    Just a few weeks before his 30th birthday, N’Doye proved himself for Lokomotiv very quickly. Hard working, tenacious and humble, he became one of the best loved players at the underachieving club, whose fans hate the way it is managed. Hull City’s new man scored 10 goals in his first season that was otherwise disastrous for the club, and went on to be the key factor in putting Lokomotiv into title contention in 2013/14. 

    Eventually though, they had to settle for third place despite his 13 goals, and when the Moscovites were amazingly thrashed by Apollon Limassol of Cyprus in Europa League qualifying round it became obvious that he needed to move in order not to waste his talents. He will be remebered as one of the best headers of the ball in Russian Premier League recent history.

    “Playing in England has been my dream and target, 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”, the striker wrote in a farewell message to Lokomotiv fans.

    Now, at long last, he has arrived, and Steve Bruce could hardly wish for a better acquisition to save Hull in the tough relegation battle. He is getting a dedicated star who is hard-working, excellent in the air, clinical with his shooting and is  a real nuisance for any defender. Will N’Doye add a tattoo of a tiger by the end of the season? 

    In the meantime, Al Sadd fans are enjoying watching Grafite and cherish the memories of Raul’s time at the club. But do they remember the anonymous Senegalese who briefly stayed in Qatar almost a decade ago?