West Ham United broke their club-record to sign French centre-back Issa Diop from Toulouse on Tuesday as he became the club’s second new signing under Manuel Pellegrini, after fellow defender Ryan Fredricks and before goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
But, what do we know about the 21-year-old? How did he come to be so highly-rated in European football? How many International teams can he represent and how much International football has he played so far? Abd how did it all begin for him? Well, today, we answer those questions by profiling the young star with a very bright future ahead of him.
Issa Laye Lucas Jean Diop was born in the French city of Toulouse in January 1997 and grew up dreaming of following in the footsteps of his grandfather Labysse Diop, who played in the Ligue 1, the first Senegalese to do so, representing Bordeaux.
As a youth, he had a brief spell with fifth-tier team Balma SC in the Academy, before being quickly snapped up by hometown club Toulouse, amid interest from across France for the prodigy.
Diop, who becomes the second player with that surname to ply his trade in the famous Claret & Blue, after Pape Bouba, swiftly progressed through the ranks and up into B team reckoning.
He made his debut, among players years his senior, in 2014 at the age of 17 and it soon became apparent that Toulouse, of Ligue 1, France’s first tier, had an almighty talent on their hands.
By this stage, Diop had already started representing the French national team at youth level, namely U16 and U17, he has since gone on to turn out for the U18s, U19s, U20s and U21s, who he has been representing since 2016 and still is, to this day.
It was while with the French under-19s that the tall centre-half lifted his first team silverware as a player, helping them to glory at the 2016 UEFA European Under-19 Championships in Germany, making it into the Team of the Tournament in the process.
Although he has chosen France at every level thus far, Diop is eligible to play for three different nations, France being one of them, and the other two being Senegal through his father’s family and Morocco through his mother’s family roots.
While the Frenchman was making waves on the International stage, still in his teenage years, he was doing exactly the same in a domestic sense with Toulouse.
He would only have to wait until November 2015, 18 years of age at the time, to make his professional debut for the first-team of the Violets, in a Ligue 1 victory over Nice.
The bright star managed to net for the first time in the senior set-up just four days later, in an away thumping of Troyes, introducing his trademark triangle celebration, where he forms a triangle with his fingers, for the first time, it has stuck with him ever since.
However, things weren’t all rosy for Diop during the 2015/2016 campaign as a disciplinary issue started to emerge, the player being sent off twice in the following months, in games against Nantes and Guingamp.
In total, he has received nine cards in French football over three seasons, two of which were the aforementioned reds, 27 have been yellows, that may be a cause for concern for Hammers fans about their new man.
However, the 21-year-old would recover well from his dismissals and finish the campaign strongly, having made 22 appearances, scoring a single goal, not bad for a breakout term.
By the time the 2016/2017 campaign came around, Diop had developed into a mainstay in the Toulouse team under new manager Pascal Dupraz, and his faith in the star was rewarded.
The then-teenager was able to keep a clean record of no red cards during the season in which the club safely avoided relegation to the Ligue 2, scoring twice, strikes against Bastia and his granddad’s side Bordeaux in 4-1 thrashings.
This consistent campaign would be rewarded by his gaffer as remarkably, at the tender age of just 20, Diop was given the captaincy of one of France’s oldest and most prestigious clubs in time for 2017/2018.
He would revel in the role and enjoy his best term to date, despite the Violets struggling in the league and having to rely on a relegation/promotion play-off triumph over Ajaccio to remain afloat, under the guidance if new boss Mickael Debeve.
The most recent season would turn out to be his best to date with 37 showings, only nine bookings and his best tally to date of three strikes, in key wins over Angers and Rennes and a late-season loss to, once again, the familiar Bordeaux.
As the summer months drew ever close, interest from clubs across Europe started to flow into the strugglers Toulouse, including from, most notably, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Although it was the £22 million bid of Pellegrini’s West Ham that was accepted by the French club as they parted ways with one of their own and the immensely talented star, became of one the Irons’ youngest stars, but their tallest, at 1.94 metres, roughly a centimetre taller than striker Andy Carroll.
It’s not hard to see that in Issa Diop, the Hammers are getting an experienced but fresh head, a dynamic, mobile and versatile central-defender who should fit the system of the new manager down to a tee, joining the likes of Declan Rice as the East Londoners’ most promising prospects, a player that could well turn out to be a bargain in this day and age.