The daring £70m defender chase Arsenal are tipped to reignite in the January transfer window
Arsenal had a summer transfer bid rejected for Sporting defender Ousmane Diomande - and they should seriously consider coming back for another go.
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First it was new signing Jurriën Timber, his season likely ended in his very first Premier League game. Then it was Thomas Partey, the makeshift right-back, who found himself slumped over the treatment table. Now Gabriel may have picked up a knock during his Brazil debut against Bolivia. If nothing else, the first month of the season has told Mikel Arteta that he could probably do with another defender.
And Arsenal did take a look at transfer for several other defenders that didn’t come to fruition over the summer – among which was Ousmane Diamonde, an Ivorian centre-back who made his name last season in Portugal. Reports suggested at the time that the Gunners had an offer of around €30m rejected by Sporting, and now the rumour mill seems to think that they will try again soon.
Just 19 years of age, the Abidjan-born defender has exploded onto the European scene in double-quick time. Just a couple of years ago, he was a teenager plying his trade in the Ivory Coast with Olympic Sport Abobo, a club outside of the country’s professional system. Spotted by Danish side FC Midtjylland, he was signed for the youth squad and eventually loaned out to Portuguese second-tier side Mafra last summer. He was so immediately impressive that Sporting signed him on a permanent deal for €7.5m at the end of the January transfer window.
Since then, Diomande has established himself as a full-blown first-team regular, operating on the right of a back three alongside former Liverpool defender Sebastián Coates and another outstanding young centre-back, Gonçalo Inácio. He also made his debut for the Ivory Coast this past weekend in a 1-0 win over Lesotho during qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Technically, he is exceptional. He’s supremely comfortable with the ball at his feet and a fine passer who can boast a completion rate over 90%, and who makes over five and a half progressive passes per game – a measure of the times the ball is successfully played forward by at least 10 yards. That’s a massive number for a central defender, and testament to the skill of passing well, not just for the sake of it.
He’s also exhibited excellent judgement in the tackle so far in his young career, handling opposing dribblers well and winning turnovers at a very high rate - in other words, when he tackles he wins possession rather than simply getting the ball into touch. All the signs point to a player with a fabulous understanding of the game and the natural skills to back that up.
He’s also physically imposing, standing at 6’3” and with enough strength to keep himself afloat in a packed box. Despite his height, however, he isn’t a natural in the air and doesn’t have great numbers for aerial duels. This is a defender who likes the ball on the floor and plays it extremely well when it’s there. In other words, he ticks pretty much all of the boxes for a modern, young centre-back.
And while he has proven himself in a back three rather than a back four, Arteta would have plenty of use for him. With Arsenal’s Spanish head coach borrowing the concept of the fluid back four out of possession and three on the ball model that his former boss Pep Guardiola used to such outstanding effect with Manchester City last season, Diomande would be able to play on the right of a three half of the time anyway – and given his natural talents, you wouldn’t bet against him being able to step up into midfield when called upon either. He is young enough to adapt and gifted enough to suit the game’s latest tactical evolution.
So will Arsenal come back for the Ivorian in January, or even next summer? It may depend on whether Sporting are willing to sell – if they did indeed reject a bid of €30m out of hand, then a deal may be too hard to negotiate. Diomande does, at least, have a compulsory release clause in his four-year contract – a hefty €80m, which comes out to not much less than £70m in sterling. You wouldn’t bet against him being worth that amount one day, but it’s a big bet to place on potential.
But perhaps Sporting can be persuaded to accept a more reasonable fee and a deal can be done – and in the meantime, Arsenal’s scouts can get a little more evidence that Diamonde is more than just a flash in the pan. They are a team that still have room to improve in defence, especially in terms of depth, and a young player with a huge ceiling seems like precisely the sort of player they should be investing in. Whether they will? Time will tell.