Why Issa Diop is the solution to West Ham’s defensive crisis

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Issa Diop
Issa Diop

The Manuel Pellegrini and post-David Moyes West Ham regime has begun in earnest. Three new faces have touched down the London Stadium: Ryan Fredericks, Lukasz Fabianski and Issa Diop and while the first two are well known Premier League campaigners, Diop isn’t. 

West Ham broke their transfer record just for the 21-year-old. The Hammers paid  Toulouse around £22m – to reportedly sway him away from Everton, Monaco, Marseille, RB Leipzig and Sevilla. 

Pellegrini appears to have a clear blueprint of how he wants his team to look and is following it to the letter, the 63-year-old tactician reckons defensive compactness is the best way to start the rebuilding process – hence his first three signings. 

Fabianski who joined from relegated Swansea City will take Joe Hart’s place in goal. The other problematic area was the right where Fredericks has settled, Diop is that last piece of the jigsaw to strengthen their weak backline. 

West Ham struggled to find any stability at the back under Moyes. Either Winston Reid was injured or Angelo Ogbonna, or sometimes both. Either way, The Hammers struggled with the ex-Manchester United manager turning to James Collins or Declan Rice, but the problem was, while Collins was too old, the teenager appeared too young for such responsibility. 

However, in Diop, West Ham has found the stereotypical Premier League defender. He is fast, powerful and intimidating, standing at 1.94 metres tall, the 21-year-old dethrones Andy Carroll (1.93m) as the Hammers’ tallest player and it means the likes of Marko Arnautovic (1.92m), Reid and  Ogbonna (both 1.91m) will have someone to look up to. 

Having such imposing physical attributes comes with its own benefits. Apparently, Diop will be the top man during aerial duels at both ends. He will hardly be beaten in contests, except perhaps if Cristiano Ronaldo is in town. 

Diop found the net three times in 34 Ligue 1 appearances last term. Even more impressive was they came from 19 shots – 17 of which were in set-piece situations. That tally was only bettered by Aaron Cresswell with 21 shots resulting in just one goal. For France, Diop has equally used his height to great effect – with three goals for the U19’s. 

Diop doesn’t depend on his physique to win balls, he fights for it. He made 43 successful tackles last season – nearly twice as many than any of West Ham’s other centre-backs. On average, he picks up 2.2 tackles per game which rank among the highest in the Premier League.

Experience is an extremely expensive asset that only comes with age, but the young Frenchman has got it in abundance despite being just 21. Diop has racked up just a little below a century of top-flight appearances since coming through three years ago and missed just four matches during the whole of last season.     

Yet, Diop’s greatest attribute could be his superb leadership skills, having spotted his aura and charisma, manager Pascal Dupraz made Diop captain last season, a decision which proved to be inspired as the club managed to avoid relegation.