Jose Mourinho praised our scouting staff for picking Issa Diop up for a record fee in the Summer of 2018 after he saw his then Manchester United side lose 3-1 to the Irons at the London Stadium.
The former Chelsea manager described the former Toulouse central defender as a ‘monster’ after the Frenchman impressed during the early stages of his career.
He continued to impress in his maiden season under Manuel Pellegrini and was linked with a big-money move to the Red Devils the following summer.
The Irons managed to keep hold of the promising 23-year old, and he had formed a good partnership at the back with Italian Angelo Ogbonna.
His first season saw Bobby Moore-Esque last-ditch tackles, marauding runs from the back, and he also managed to chip in with the odd goal.
Since his promising start though, he fell into the second season syndrome trap as he began to struggle in the 2019/20 season with costly mistakes and questionable positional awareness creeping into his game.
It is, of course, to be expected from someone still very much learning his trade at the highest level. All too often though, the mistakes he would make would lead to goals, and that was a problem that would follow him for the majority of the season.
One that sticks in my mind was a piece of keystone cops defending alongside Ogbonna that saw the Frenchman allow a ball to bounce in the box under pressure from a Brighton forward, Diop could only tamely head the ball towards Fabianski who was left helpless allowing the Seagulls forward to knock the ball into an empty net.
The Hammers went onto draw that game against a relegation rival 3-3 after leading the match 3-1 midway through the second half.
Fortunately, come the end of the season it didn’t cost the Irons, but it is lapses of concentration like that that will stop him from becoming a world-class defender.
The crux of the issue comes down to the lack of competition in the heart of our defence, Diop can make those mistakes with the reassurance that he’ll still be in the team the following week.
David Moyes and his team are looking to strengthen the defence and should he succeed; it will be the best thing that could happen to Diop.
A fresh partner at the back and a bit healthy competition will give him the kick up the backside that he needs.
It took a bout of Covid-19 to knock him out the team despite him looking so rusty, it came as no surprise that the Hammers’ best display in some time against Wolves came with him watching on from his sofa at home.
A tweak in the system will also help I feel, and with Moyes now seemingly favouring the three at the back formation it offers him a little extra protection because you do have to feel for any central defender with Aaron Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks playing full back next to you in a back four.
The 23-year-old must improve his concentration and positional sense though in a back three. As a backline, you have to work in unison moving up as one and dropping back as one.
We have seen on occasions where Diop has been found deeper than his partners and therefore playing the forward on. Defending is an art, and there is a reason why players get better with age as they master their craft.
There is no doubt there is a player in Issa Diop, his early form after joining shows that he is a decent defender, and you don’t often get picked out by a manager of Mourinho’s calibre without having something about you.
I have seen glimpses of a top talent; I remember a last-ditch tackle against Tottenham at home a couple of seasons ago that stopped a goalscoring opportunity receiving gasps from the home faithful.
He is a danger in the opposition box, having netted at Anfield amongst other grounds as well.
If he can find that bit of confidence from his maiden season and get back to that form, that creaky back door that has affected the Hammers so badly in recent seasons could start to look a little sturdier.