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Nathan Staples writes a detailed scout report on Issa Diop, Toulouse’s imposing centre-back
France is having a renaissance. While many have noticed the sheer amount of quality they have available in attacking areas, what has somewhat gone under the radar is the depth of exciting centre-backs the country is beginning to produce.
Once you look past the big names such as Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane, Aymeric Laporte and Kurt Zouma, you can see the rest of the exciting talent pool that Didier Deschamps has at his disposal. Kresnel Kimpembe, Clement Lenglet, Mouctar Diakhabe, Joris Gnanon to name but a few that have seriously impressed this season in Ligue 1.
Also, they are either 23 or younger, which is frankly frightening.
Another name to add to that long list of potentially special talent is Toulouse defender Issa Diop. Having rose through the ranks of his local club, the young defender has sparked life back into the Southern French club and he could be just as good, if not bigger than those names above.
The grandson of former Bordeaux player Lybasse Diop, who was also the first ever Senegalese-born footballer to play in Ligue 1, Issa was born in the Pink City in 1997. He began at his local side Balma before Toulouse scouts picked up the defender aged just nine years old.
Diop has worn the purple of Le Téfécé ever since, having been promoted to the first team in November 2015. The 20-year-old has been a mainstay in the starting eleven, playing on 21 occasions last season and helping his side remain in the top division by the skin of their teeth.
The 2016/17 campaign has proven to be much more successful for Pascal Dupraz’s men, who brought in Christian Juiien to partner Diop in the summer. The two have created a formidable young partnership at the heart of Toulouse’s defence and both are attracting interest from clubs across Europe.
Talent Radar Accolades:
Named in 100 to Watch in 2017
The defence has conceded just 33 goals this season, only bettered by the top three sides and Saint-Etienne in its sturdiness. That, along with a more ambitious set up under the former Evian manager, has lifted Les Violets away from their relegation worries and into the moderate safety of mid-table.
The youngster also played a significant role in France under-19s European Championship win in the summer, with the defender also being voted into the Team of the Tournament.
Diop plays as the ball playing centre-back in the partnership with Julien, with the latter in more of a reserved role. He is encouraged to mark attackers, meet them when they have the ball and stop them from running at the rest of the back line.
When in possession, he is encouraged to play a shorter game in order to play out from the back. That ideal will stand him in good stead if and when he makes the step up to a bigger side in Europe, who prefer any centre-back in their ranks to be comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Standing at 6’3, Diop’s physical attributes are all you would expect from a centre-back. Tall, broad and imposing, the Frenchman isn’t someone you can simply throw around and bully for the 90-minute duration as he is well up for the task.
Hand-in-hand with that comes his strength in the air. He has a strong vertical, allowing him to rise high above players around him and is able to direct them with expert precision as shown in all three of the goals he has scored so far in his short career.
His starting position is often excellent, whether that be when a player near him has the ball or when his assistance with an attacker is required. He has great covering speed and has shown on numerous occasions his ability to get back into position to cover the right-back or to stop players breaking past him at pace.
The standout performances so far this season have come against Paris Saint-Germain both at the Stadium Munincipal and at the Parc des Princes. With Dupraz setting his side defensively in both games, Diop held the line perfectly as Toulouse denied PSG from scoring in both outings.
Diop led both games with interceptions, made no fouls and even had four blocks over the course of the two fixtures. In his role of martialling the most prolific striker in France, over two games the Frenchman has come away with full marks.
While his passing game is slowly improving, he can sometimes give away possession cheaply. Sometimes he misdirects a short pass out wide to an advancing full back or he mishits a longer ball, showing that he’s not quite good enough of a passer to start counter attacks from deep.
His discipline has also come into question on occasion over the last year or so as he has collected 10 yellow cards and two reds. While there have been no dismissals this season, he can be a little late on the timing of his tackles and his physical approach can get him into trouble along with his temperament. All this means that the odds of him being booked is as attractive as ones that can be found in Online Casino Bluebook.
In fact, both of his red cards have come from off-the-ball incidents, with a shove against Nantes last season a prime example of this. It has looked like he has learned from some of his mistakes during this campaign but his six yellows so far this year still rings a few alarm bells.
Those rash decisions also crop up during the game in terms of defending, as show against Lyon recently. He is attracted to the player in Memphis Depay being the danger and as he closes him down before he has the ball, Christophe Jallet simply slots the ball into the space he vacated for a goal.
It’s little moments like those, that are admittedly infrequent, that he needs to keep working on to reach the top of the game. There are plenty of names ahead of him yet, especially given the sheer depth of young centre-backs in France alone, but he has all the tools to go as far as he pushes himself to go.