This summer transfer window has undoubtedly been different to what West Ham fans normally get, and Issa Diop is possibly the best embodiment of this change. Whilst Felipe Anderson and Jack Wilshere may be the signings that excite fans the most, it is possible that the young centre back from France may turn out to be the best of the bunch.
To start with, there are some similarities between the acquisition of the man from Toulouse and the signing of Dean Ashton from Norwich in 2006. Like Diop, Ashton was brought for a record fee – although admittedly Diop’s reign only lasted a few weeks.
He arrived from East Anglia with a growing reputation earned at Crewe Alexandra and then for the Canaries in an ill-fated Premier League campaign. At the age of 23, Ashton had been bought for the potential he possessed and not just what he could immediately bring to the side.
Having represented England at every youth level, it was obvious to everyone that Deano would eventually make the step up to the senior squad. His signing felt like a seminal moment, like a cornerstone for future sides to be built around. Like Ashton, Diop arrives in Stratford full of potential and with a degree of expectation of what could follow.
Still only 21, he has amassed 85 senior appearances for Toulouse and was made captain of the side for the previous season. He broke into the team in the 2015-16 season with Toulouse in bad form and under serious threat of relegation. Alongside some fellow youthful graduates, Diop helped to solidify the shaky defence and keep his club in the top flight.
Over the next two seasons, whilst Toulouse have experienced highs and lows, Diop has stood as a 6ft 4 tower of consistency. He is, by all accounts, a calm, resolute and intelligent defender who reads the game with a maturity beyond his years.
His pace enables him to utilise his footballing brain to sweep up behind his defensive partners and he is happy trying to play out from the back. He made on average 2.2 interceptions a game last year, which would place him amongst the top six defenders in the Premier League last time out.
He, like Ashton, has represented his nation at every level bar the seniors. It is possible that were he not sat behind World Champions like Umtiti and Varane, he may have made that step up already. He has already tasted international glory having won the U19 European Championships in 2016, making the Team of the Tournament in the process.
Like Ashton, Diop does not arrive in the East End the finished article. There is still a raw rashness to his game. His desire to nullify threats out wide or in the midfield area sometimes leaves his centre back partner exposed.
He doesn’t always find his range when attempting longer balls and can lose possession cheaply at times – reminiscent of a young Rio Ferdinand or even England’s men of the moment John Stones and Harry Maguire. But players learn from their mistakes, and if Diop develops into the player Rio was – or that Maguire and Stones are on the verge of becoming – then we will have a very good defender on our hands indeed.
As we all know, unfortunately, Dean Ashton never got to fully fulfill his potential. Following a stellar start to his West Ham career, in which he helped fire us to and then star in a FA Cup final, Ashton was included in Steve McClaren’s first squad.
This call-up saw him pick up a training ground injury via a Shaun Wright-Phillips tackle that would eventually lead to his early retirement in 2009 aged just 26. Still only 34, West Ham fans are left to wonder how good he could have become and what success his obvious talents could have brought us.
Unless lightning strikes twice, the signing of Diop should provide a key part of our defence for the foreseeable future. If he lives up to the hype, in the way Ashton once began to, then he will quickly become a favourite among the club’s supporters.