With Issa Diop signing for West Ham United yesterday, here is an introduction to our new centre-half.
Issa Diop was born in Toulouse on 9th January 1997; his grandfather, former Bordeaux player Labysse Diop, was the first Senegalese footballer in Ligue 1. Issa began at his local side Balma before Toulouse scouts picked up the defender aged just nine years old; he came through the ranks with his hometown club and made four appearances for France Under-16s, five for the Under-17s and two for the Under-18s before being named on the bench for Toulouse’s 2-0 Ligue 1 defeat at Guingamp in November 2015. He made his senior debut the following week in a 2-0 home win over Nice, helping his side to a clean sheet and three points. He scored his first goal for the club four days later on 2nd December 2015 in a 3-0 win at Troyes. He kept his place, making 21 league starts and two more in the cups, including a 2-1 extra-time win over Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue. Diop picked up five yellow cards and two red cards in 2015/16 and helped his team to nine clean sheets from his 23 appearances as Toulouse finished 17th, avoiding relegation by one point.
In the summer of 2016, Diop starred in the Under-19 European Championships. France lost their opening game 2-1 to England, with Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke scoring what turned out to be the winner, but would go on to win the tournament in Germany, beating Croatia 2-0 and the Netherlands 5-1 in their other group games. Inspired by Kylian Mbappe, they defeated Portugal 3-1 in the semi-finals before trouncing Italy 4-0 in the Final, with Diop rounding off the victory and the tournament with the fourth and final goal in the 92nd minute. Diop was named in the Team of the Tournament. He is pictured below celebrating his goal in the Under-19 European Championship Final (second from left, wearing number 5).
Diop returned to Toulouse for the 2016/17 season and made 30 league starts and one cup appearance, registering two goals, two assists and nine yellow cards. He missed seven matches with a back problem. Toulouse finished 13th, conceding 41 goals, the joint-fourth best defensive record in Ligue 1 that season, behind only Paris Saint-Germain, champions Monaco and Nice, and level with Marseille. Diop helped the club to nine clean sheets in his 31 matches, with his goals coming in a 4-1 home win over Bordeaux in August 2016 and a 4-1 home win over Bastia in February 2017. Diop led the back line superbly as Toulouse denied Paris Saint-Germain from scoring in both their outings against the French giants. Diop led both games for interceptions, made no fouls and made four blocks over the course of the two fixtures – no mean feat considering he was up against Lucas Moura, Julian Draxler, Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria. Diop was given the captain’s armband for the first time at the age of 20 in a 3-1 defeat at Monaco in April 2017.
Diop made 34 appearances in Ligue 1 for Toulouse last season (2017/18) and also played in five cup games and both legs of the relegation play-off. He scored three goals, made one assist and collected eight yellow cards, helping his side to 14 clean sheets. He scored his first goal of the season in a 3-2 home win over Rennes in August 2017 and was given the captain’s armband two months later. His second goal of the campaign came in a 1-0 win at Angers in October 2017 with his final goal for the club arriving in a 4-2 defeat at Bordeaux in May 2018. Toulouse finished 18th but secured their survival by beating Ajaccio in the relegation play-off, Diop’s defence keeping a clean sheet in both legs with Toulouse winning 4-0 on aggregate. Diop is pictured below, challenging Di Maria and Cavani of PSG.
Diop, still only 21, has made 95 appearances for Toulouse, registering six goals, three assists, 22 yellow cards and two red cards. Alongside his success with France at Under-19 level, he has also represented his country three times at Under-20 level and has played five matches for the Under-21s, and has also captained the side. He is also eligible to play for Senegal and Morocco. Standing at 6’4, Diop is tall, broad and imposing – strong in the air, he is a threat in the opposition penalty area from set-pieces too. His positioning is a strength and he has great covering speed – he also prefers to play on the right side of a central pair or three. He made an average of 2.2 interceptions per game last season, placing him alongside the Premier League’s Chris Smalling and Laurent Koscielny, and behind only James Tomkins for the equivalent statistic last season in his position at centre-half. His disciplinary record was a concern in his first couple of seasons but, unlike that of Ryan Fredericks, is improving. Diop was sent off twice in his first season but has not been dismissed in the two seasons since and his number of yellow cards last season was down on the previous campaign, even though he played more games last term.
Speaking personally, I have to say that I am delighted with the signing of Issa Diop. He was first linked with the club two weekends ago by the Sunday Mirror and I’m delighted we’ve got the deal over the line – full credit to all involved.
I’m sure all WHTID readers will join me in welcoming Issa to West Ham United. I’m certainly excited by the prospect of seeing him develop and progress in the claret and blue.