You could excuse the collective surprise when West Ham United announced the signing of Issa Diop on Tuesday. After all, the talented centre-back was highly coveted, having been linked with numerous European clubs. So why choose the Hammers?
On arriving in East London, Diop explained his decision:
I hope to show my best here, I am a very ambitious player. West Ham [are] too, with their new coach. Manuel Pellegrini is a top coach, who worked at some huge clubs around the world. I’m looking forward to working with him, showing what I can do. Being captain at such a young age was a wonderful experience for me. It was really a good thing. I’m just hoping I can give my best here and show more of the same.
How did West Ham manage such a coup?
Andre-Pierre Gignac, Etienne Capoue, Aymen Abdennour, Serge Aurier and Wissam Ben Yedder. Toulouse has earned consistent profit from players who attract European interest. Most are either developed from within the club’s youth academy or signed for relatively low sums before their value quickly increases. At only 19, highly-rated goalkeeper Alban Lafont is next.
Toulouse, who beat AC Ajaccio in a two-legged playoff to avoid relegation this season, have never been a side which boasts the necessary financial power to retain their key players. It shows, naturally, otherwise they would be competing nearer the top of Ligue 1.
So when a club-record bid is offered for their captain, it’s difficult to say no. Especially with scouts continuously tracking his performance. Despite genuine interest from heavyweights such as Barcelona, Sevilla, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, it appears none of these clubs had yet made a concrete offer this summer. West Ham moved quickest, completing a deal before others attempted the same.
With that in mind, Diop’s transfer shares some parallels with Wolverhampton Wanderers’ move for Ruben Neves 12 months ago. Highly-rated at Porto, many critics felt the Portuguese midfielder hugely talented although playing in a weaker league meant his ability was subjective based on the quality of opposition. Top sides have since expressed admiration. Despite the 21-year-old insisting he’ll remain at Molineaux, it appears a case of when, not if, he leaves to further his career.
Diop could find himself in the same situation.
Diop’s strengths, weaknesses and potential
One of Diop’s main attributes stems from being appointed Toulouse captain at just 20, allowing his leadership qualities to shine through during a difficult period for Les Violets. He led by example on the pitch. His 6ft 3in frame means most forwards struggle to beat him in one-on-one battles. A physical presence with aerial ability and powerful acceleration to match, he’s a tough tackler, one who often times his interceptions to snuff out danger.
Playing for Toulouse enabled Diop to gain valuable experience. He faced multiple goalscoring opportunities on a weekly basis, learning how to best deal with each one individually.
Since making his under-16 debut, the 21-year-old has amassed 39 appearances for France’s various youth sides. His only silverware to date came two summers ago, where he netted during the 4-0 European Championship final win over Italy. He played every minute in the tournament.
Discipline is currently Diop’s biggest weakness. In 41 competitive matches this campaign, he was booked nine times. The season beforehand? Ten. It’s imperative he adjusts to English football quickly, while also avoiding an unwanted reputation as a card-happy defender.
With strikers naturally looking to exploit that part of his game, he must think logically before lunging into challenges. Manuel Pellegrini, who guided Raul Albiol and Diego Godin in their early careers, will be keen to help him improve.
The ability to pass out from defence and thrive under pressure is becoming more common among centre-backs. Diop, despite some improvements in his passing, still has work to do. Averaging success at a little under 80% in Ligue 1 is more than adequate. However, he must concentrate on long-range distribution.
Diop will settle quickly, as his physical attributes immediately leave most Premier League forwards at a disadvantage. He’s both quick and strong, meaning a faster-paced game should suit him well. Pellegrini has been full of praise for the youngster. There’s no reason Diop won’t flourish in West Ham’s backline.