Mainz defender Abdou Diallo has won plenty of admirers in his first season in Germany, with some consistently assured displays since moving from AS Monaco last summer showing exactly why he is captain of the France U21 side.
Reason enough for bundesliga.com to take a closer look at the defender...
Left of centre
Finding a defensive balance is always tricky, especially at centre back. Being a left-footed central defender means that Diallo will always be in demand - all the more so given that he is technically strong and likes to build from the back while keeping the ball on the ground.
In July, Mainz sporting director Rouven Schröder described Diallo as “strong in the air and shrewd in the challenge”. He said the club had seen off competition from across Europe to sign a player who is both quick and “defensively versatile.”
The then 21-year-old joined from French champions Monaco and started 27 league matches in 2017/18. Playing in either a four- or three-man defence, he had a 80 per cent pass success rate over the course of the campaign.
“In Germany, when I get the ball I’m always under pressure, meaning I need to know before I get the ball where I want to pass it next,” he told bundesliga.com. “You have to be on top of your game every single second in Germany, and physicality also plays a bigger role.”
A set-piece threat
Standing at 6' 2'', Diallo has put his height and agility to good use. He scored his first goal for Mainz in only his third game for the 05ers, heading home in a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen. In November, he outjumped Borussia Mönchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer to help his side to a 1-1 draw away from home.
Watch: Highlights of Mainz's draw with Gladbach
In between he won another header from a corner to set up a goal for centre back partner Stefan Bell in the Matchday 8 win over Hamburg. Diallo also netted from another set piece to give Mainz the lead in the 3-1 victory over Stuttgart in December that sent his team through to the DFB Cup quarter-finals.
Diallo had gained some valuable experience before joining Mainz, having spent the 2015/16 season on loan at Belgian side Zulte Waregem. Playing in an attacking line-up, he scored three goals in 33 starts to help his side reach the championship play-offs.
A native of Tours in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France, he joined Monaco at the age of 15 and played five league games in their title-winning campaign of 2016/17. He also started against Leverkusen in last season’s UEFA Champions League.
“I’ve come abroad again because it’s an experience from which I can learn as both a footballer and a human being,” Diallo said after joining Mainz. On the field, his experience so far has made him a well-rounded player who is noted for his reading of the play and for defending on the front foot.
After arriving at Mainz – taking the number four jersey once worn by former 05er and current Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp - Diallo said a good mentality is essential in football. It seems that attitude has allowed him to adapt quickly to the Bundesliga’s more intense style of play.
He was named in German magazine kicker’s Team of the Week four times in the first half of the 2017/18 season, and is delighted to have got the chance to develop his game by playing more regularly.
“Experience is something that you can’t buy,” he told Goal in November. “You have to play, to be confronted with situations, to make decisive interventions, to take on the top attackers. That’s what experience is.”
Latest French star
Diallo is captain of France’s U21 team, who currently top their Euro 2019 qualifying group with seven wins from seven.
Other young players to have moved to the Bundesliga after previously being with French clubs include Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman, Borussia Dortmund’s Dan-Axel Zagadou, RB Leipzig’s Jean-Kevin Augustin, Schalke’s Amine Harit and Mainz midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin. Stuttgart defender Benjamin Pavard, also only 22, has become a full France international since joining from Lille two years ago.
Diallo suggests the trend will continue because French-based players know they can improve their game in Germany since they will be looked after both on and off the pitch. “All the French players are aware of the standard in the Bundesliga,” he told Goal. “Playing there, I’ve realised that it’s better than I thought. There’s a very, very good level and that’s obviously attractive. When you’re working with professional people who work well, it’s obvious.”
It is development that has delighted his club's sporting director Rouven Schröder. "Abdou has come on leaps and bounds in his first year and is now a key player for us," the 42-year-old stated of his defender, before insisting that he will be continuing football schooling at Mainz as part of his five-year deal.