Le50 2017 – Issa Diop
As Toulouse experience something of a renaissance in terms of bringing young players through their ranks, Issa Diop must rank as one of their brightest prospects. The centre back has had to learn the hard way, having been thrown in at the deep end when he made his debut for the club. But he has risen to the challenge and has become a young player in huge demand.
Born in Toulouse, Diop joined his hometown club at the age of six and rose through the academy system before beleaguered first team coach Dominique Arribage handed the player his first team debut in November 2015. With Toulouse languishing in 19th place with only one win to their name thus far, Diop played an integral role as he marshalled the defence into keeping their first clean sheet of the season in a key victory over Nice. From then on in, Diop made the centre back position his own as a previously porous Toulouse defence became one of the most solid in the league, due in no small part to the emergence of their talented young defender.
Once Pascal Dupraz was enrolled as coach in February 2016, Diop continued to play a key part as Toulouse completed their now infamous great escape, avoiding relegation on the final day of the season having looked doomed at the turn of the year. Since then, Diop has gone from strength to strength and aside from a back injury keeping him out for six weeks towards the end of 2016, he has been almost ever-present in the Toulouse defence, his partnership with Christopher Jullien proving to be one of the most physically imposing in the league.
Diop’s undoubted talents lie in his significant physicality, as at 6’4” and well built, he’s not a player to be outmuscled easily. It comes as no surprise therefore that Diop is strong in the air, a useful attribute at both ends of the pitch. With pace combined with his power, his athleticism means he ticks a number of immediate boxes that a modern-day defender requires. Despite his relative youth, he has a strong ability to read the game, resulting in excellent positioning which works in tandem with strength in the tackle.
There are still areas that Diop needs to work on, namely how he uses the ball when in possession. His distribution can be a little wayward and he doesn’t always look the most comfortable, but these are relatively minor tweaks needed for player who has the core skill-set required for his position.
On the international scene, Diop was an important member of the French under-19 side who won the European Championships in 2016 as he played every game in their run to the title, netting the fourth and final goal in the final. He has since made the move into the under-21 set-up and has continued to look at ease at that level. One blot on his record was an unfortunate final-minute loss of possession in a 2017 European Championships qualifying game against Ukraine which cost the side a point and, effectively, qualification. He has however continued to be selected for les Espoirs and appears to have been able to put that mistake behind him.
Unfortunately for Toulouse, his future does seem to be away from the club with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, together with Monaco, all showing recent interest in the player. Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has had scouts monitor Diop for months, believing him to be one of the most talented young defenders around. This has resulted in Dupraz announcing to the press that only a monumental offer will lead to the player leaving the club. Exciting times surely lie ahead for Diop.