With the opening of the January-transfer period across Europe, the most anticipated addition is in fact that agreed in October. Probably one of the most curious cases: Amad Diallo, 18 (Traore was shortlisted in early 2020), signed for Manchester United for 21 million euros, plus another 20 million euros from Atalanta, despite a meagre 24 minutes in the first team at the time.
Diallo scored on his Atalanta debut as a replacement in October 2019 against Udinese in the 13th minute. He scored a goal in the 17th minute (he became the first player of the 2002 season to score in Serie A), but has only played 11 minutes in two games this season. Then, despite United’s attention, he had to wait almost a year for his next few minutes of action: a 13-minute cameo against Hellas Verona on 28 November and a promising 22-minute appearance on the Champions League bench against Midtjylland on 1 November. In December, he showed big hits, subtle runs and two good shots that allowed him to hit the goal.
Indeed, Diallo’s ball skills are similar to those of Barcelona legend Lionel Messi, and throughout his junior career he has surpassed even two age groups. However, it’s still a lot of money for a player who hasn’t proven himself yet and might not be in the Premier League this season. One must also ask why the teenager has been so sparing with Atalanta (especially in a year in which he has established himself incredibly well) – even as a replacement – given his talent, profile and obvious qualities.
With only 35 minutes since the deal, it’s a gamble for United, which has been burned in the past with players like Beebe. However, sources told ESPN’s Rob Dawson that Diallo is being considered for the first team alongside 18-year-old Facundo Pellistri, who was signed at the same time by the Uruguayan club Penarol.
When Diallo arrives in Manchester after being allowed to play in the UK, the hierarchy in Old Trafford feels that the Ivorian born winger is worth the risk.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Diallo moved to Atalanta in 2015 and shone at junior level. Jonathan Moscrope/Getty Images
What kind of player is he?
Diallo is far from unknown on the Scouting scene. He has been on the radar of major European clubs for some time now, thanks to his performances at youth level – where he often takes on older opponents – and his recent appearances in the Italian Primavera (U19) league.
His statistics in the Primavera of the last two years are impressive: 12 goals and nine assists in 39 games. He also scored a goal and three assists in six games of the UEFA Youth League during the 2019-20 season.
A top scout from one of these clubs has given ESPN access to his entire Diallo file, which dates back to 2019 and is based on his performances with the team and the U19 youth division. In the internal system of the club, Diallo is classified as a potential player of 7.5 (out of a maximum of 10), which is equivalent to a potential regular player in a club at Champions League level – for comparison : Messi’s maximum score would have been 9.0 according to this system (of course nobody can be perfect!).
Extracts from the report, compiled with the help of various club recognition staff, reveal interesting details about his attributes as a player.
Physical profile: may seem light, but manages contact well. Be able to stand even in case of major difficulties. Low center of gravity, good balance. Impressive change of course with and without the ball. Impressive control and coordination. Very fast over short distances, loses power and speed over long distances. More consistent than most players are age, the impact lasts throughout the game.
Diallo is also praised for his ability to see all areas of the pitch and is able to distribute the ball well over the short medium distance; he performs good game changes. His defensive working speed is also judged to be positive: His willingness to keep on running, defending and setting up the defensive structure of the team is surprisingly good.
What’s his position?
In the beginning of his career Diallo went from a central midfielder to a secondary midfielder. Diallo is now an inverted, tactically-aware winger, ideal for a 4-3-3 formation, with skills that are closer to today’s big players than a winger who limits himself to changes of pace and the ability to tackle opponents. The report states:
A characteristic reversed winger who likes to move his left foot from right to inside. Prefers a relatively deep position to get involved in the preparation of the game instead of going directly to the goal or the finish line, but is also effectively closer to the goal and the penalty area. Less effective on the left side, but can be successfully placed in a central position.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Diallo has what it takes to succeed at Man United. Martin Rickett/EMPIX/PA Images via Getty Images
Does his style resemble that of a current player?
Comparisons with Messi come from Diallo’s beautiful balance, fast feet, excellent technique, enchanting dribbles and the ability to see and perform the perfect stride – not to mention his beautiful left foot.
At the age of 18, he has the maturity and confidence to use his considerable skills – but not just for fun, only when there’s something to win – and he has a true team ethic with a strong desire to work hard to play his part in defence.
But while it is undeniably an exciting prospect, we all know that it is no guarantee of success. Finally, the game is sprinkled with young players who are embarrassed by the day after Messi.
A professional scout who knows the Italian youth scene inside out says that Diallo’s undeniable potential has yet to be translated to the first team.
I have seen Diallo many times and he is an interesting talent, but I must admit that the deal, especially for the plays, was a big surprise for me, he told ESPN on condition of anonymity. Yes, he excelled in his youth and yes, even with older players, but in my opinion he cannot be compared to players like [Barcelona] Ansu Fati, [Real Madrid] Vinicius Jr, Reinho or Rodrigo, whom I followed in their youth. And for the money involved in this deal, you’re expecting a potential world star. I just don’t see that Amad Diallo has the same potential as the one mentioned.
What’s the next step?
The next steps for Diallo are crucial for him to optimize his talent. Is he immediately included in the first team – like Pellistri (who by the way has the same position as a right winger) – and identified as a player from the first division, but who plays almost exclusively in the reserves? Or will he be sent on loan to gain more experience?
Now that Diallo is apparently working hard to improve his English, he would probably prefer to stay in Manchester, but the increasingly common route of attracting promising players abroad, in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium or even Germany, could be another option. As an Italian passport holder this is certainly an easy option.
What Manchester United then does with him is crucial, because it is rare for Manchester United to bring in young foreign talent to play directly in the first team. They took a big risk by spending a lot on an 18-year-old with no proven experience, but because their transfer policy continues to focus on young players, the way Diallo establishes itself at Old Trafford could play a big role in their future.