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Issa Diop's class shines through despite chaotic week

What a week it's been for West Ham United new boy Issa Diop, who began his Hammers career with an own goal against Arsenal at the weekend before bouncing back in style against AFC Wimbledon in midweek.

When scouting central defenders, one of the first things recruiters look out for is the quality of the player's clearances.

If a centre-back is unable to offer assurances with his ability to ease the pressure on his fellow defenders - to clear his lines convincingly and resoundingly - it's a potentially fatal black mark against him.

Particularly damning, is when a stopper clears the ball upwards but not forwards, and many scouts will immediately dismiss a centre-back if they see this kind of jittery, uncontrolled clearance.

One suspects that a few West Ham fans would have dismissed Diop too when his comical own goal put Arsenal 2-1 in their meeting at the Emirates Stadium last weekend following a wayward attempt to get the ball clear.

The 21-year-old, a big-money summer signing from Toulouse, deemed fit to clear the ball high but barely out of his own box as Arsenal's pressure increased towards the final stages of the match.

Alexandre Lacazette duly received Aaron Ramsey's resulting knock-down, held off a defender, and then slammed the ball back towards the six-yard box where Diop - who'd earlier stopped to admire his would-be clearance - was on hand to turn the ball past his own goalkeeper.

It was a hapless contribution from the defender whose arrival, for a then-club-record £22 million, had been celebrated as, potentially, a key building block in Manuel Pellegrini's new West Ham side.

Having broken one record with his fee, Diop obviously won't have wanted to have written that kind of negative history on his Premier League debut, yet his 'effort' against the Gunners made him only the eighth player to find the net against their own team in their first match in the competition.

No West Ham player had ever before marked their Premier League debut for the club and, despite the caveats, Irons supporters could reasonably have felt concerned about their latest acquisition.

Yet they needn't be; many a young prospect, taking his first steps in the Prem, have made errors that have belied their quality over the years.

This one is forgivable, particularly considering the pressure Diop found himself under - his erroneous clearance was one of eight he made during the match, while he also won 100 percent of his aerial duels.

What West Ham fans will see in time, and what they began to see against Wimbledon on Tuesday, was a player who knows how to defend and who relishes getting the basics right as he looks to neutralise attackers.

His physical qualities - height, power and athleticism - make him an asset in both boxes, and his game intelligence - while it needs work - is encouraging for a 21-year-old.

Temperament is a potential problem, although Diop admirably began to atone for his lapse against Arsenal with a goal against Wimbledon during a Man of the Match display in the League Cup this week.

Admittedly, the opposition were a world away from the stiff opponents Diop will encounter in the Prem, but this is exactly the kind of early-season fixture which is crucial for new and foreign players to find their feet and begin to settle into a new club.

Indeed, he was one of only two players to have retained their spots in the team after the defeat by Arsenal, with Pellegrini surely keen to blood the France U-21 international, who's eligible for both Senegal and Morocco.

In time, Hammers supporters will surely come to appreciate the stopper's authority, desire to take responsibility and, as he hinted against Wimbledon, his offensive contribution.

He scored three times in Ligue 1 last term, and demonstrated his technical quality with a sumptuous 20-yard finish to equalise against the Dons and set up the Irons for a comeback.

"I received the ball and I shot, so I'm happy for the team," the youngster told the club's website. "It wasn't my best goal, as I think I scored a better one for Toulouse with a volley."

The defender could have had a second, but sent a 64th-minute header against the woodwork after being picked out by Felipe Anderson.

Even before celebrating his goal with a trademark 'Hammers' crossed-arm gesture, Diop surely has the potential to be a cult hero - and a future captain - at the London Stadium.

"I hope I can score again," he added, looking ahead to West Ham's weekend showdown with Wolverhampton Wanderers, "but I prefer it when we win and I don't score.

"Actually, I hope I score and we win, as that's better."

His goal against Wimbledon was certainly a good way to begin to win fans around after a nightmarish debut against Arsenal, but in time, it's surely inevitable that this talented young stopper will become a big hit in East London.


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