The chance to face the best of the best on a regular basis was one of the reasons Mainz's Abdou Diallo chose to move to the Bundesliga, although having grown up alongside Kylian Mbappe and inherited Jürgen Klopp's shirt at the Opel Arena, the young Frenchman is rarely starstruck.
After he scored his first Bundesliga goal in Mainz's win against Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 3, bundesliga.com caught up with the France U-21 captain to discuss his adaption to life in Germany and his friendship with Mbappe.
bundesliga.com: Were you aware when you arrived that the number four shirt has something of a mythical aura for Mainz fans?
Diallo: Yes, of course - people spoke to me a lot about Jürgen Klopp and said that whoever wears the shirt goes into club history.
bundesliga.com: When you compare your first experiences in the Bundesliga with the level in France, what sort of preliminary conclusions can you draw?
Diallo: I’d say that the level is a little bit higher in Germany, particularly considering that our first two opponents were promoted sides [Hannover and Stuttgart]. The games certainly didn’t feel like the teams had come up from the second tier. That’s a little bit different in France. I suppose in Germany they play more attacking football, while in France the focus is on the defence a little bit more. The French teams often don’t know how they should integrate young players. In Germany they do, and that doesn’t just mean on a financial level, either, but also on a human level. For example in France it’s not very common for a coach and sporting director to talk personally to players, as Mainz coach Sandro Schwarz and sporting director Rouven Schröder did with me. The fact that they flew to Monaco during pre-season really impressed me and showed that they really wanted to work with me.
Watch: Diallo scored his first Bundesliga goal in a win against Leverkusen on Matchday 3!
bundesliga.com: You’ve said that you’re here in Germany to improve as a player. Which areas of your game do you see the most room for improvement?
Diallo: I’ve come abroad again [Diallo spent the 2015/16 season on loan at Zulte Waregem in Belgium] because it’s an experience from which I can learn as both a footballer and a human being. Here in Germany I want to play plenty of minutes and pick up experience in a strong league. In France there are perhaps three or four big teams, whereas in Germany there are not only more big teams, but the smaller teams are also much more competitive than the smaller teams in France. You have to be on top of your game every single second in Germany, and physicality also plays a bigger role.
bundesliga.com: How does the Bundesliga's more attacking style of football change your game as a defender?
Diallo: 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. In France you have a little bit more time. I’d say that’s the biggest difference.
bundesliga.com: Plenty of young French players, including yourself, are coming to the Bundesliga. Why do you think that is?
Diallo: At the moment in France there are a lot of very, very good young players, who aren’t being given a proper chance by their clubs. The German clubs have recognised that and brought in the young French players, who know they can develop well in the Bundesliga.
bundesliga.com: Amine Harit, your team-mate with France U-21s, joined Schalke from Nantes this summer and recently pledged his international allegiance to Morocco. You were born in Tours in France, but your dad is from Senegal. Could you imagine playing for Senegal one day?
Diallo: I don’t even have a Senegalese passport and it’s not really something I’m thinking about at the moment. On top of that, I’m captain of the French U-21 side. I’m very proud to play for them and want to make sure we qualify for the next European Championships. You never know what the future holds, but at the moment it’s not something I’m thinking about.
bundesliga.com: Several players left Monaco this summer, including Kylian Mbappe, now at PSG. Are you still in touch with him?
Diallo: Yes, we’re still in touch. Kylian didn’t just play with me, either, but also with my younger brother in the Monaco academy.
bundesliga.com: As for your youth, did you have any idols growing up?
Diallo: I didn’t have any idols as such, but of course I watched the big games and admired the big players. In Germany, Jerome Boateng always impressed me.
bundesliga.com: As you said, you’re captain of the France U-21s. Have you always enjoyed taking on responsibility?
Diallo: It’s always been important to me to take on responsibility, regardless of whether you’re wearing the captain’s armband or not. At the moment, though, with the France U-21s we’re right in the middle of a project and we want to achieve something together.
Abdou Diallo was talking to Tobias Schächter