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Ranking Roma’s Youth, #2: Amadou Diawara

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If Roma avoid selling Amadou Diawara, it’ll be the best thing the club do this season.

Frosinone Calcio v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

I deliberately kept my comments to myself on Amadou Diawara for the 2019/20 season, because he is one of the best talents I’ve ever seen play the game, period. How’s that for unequivocal?

When I was a kid, I used to watch all football players like they were heroes who could do no wrong. I didn’t understand the game, and that was when it was more enjoyable because, in Cesar Minotti’s own words, football still held the kind of magic where it could lie to me. As a grown man nowadays (on paper anyway), I’ve only recently seen two Serie A players who pull off moves that I can’t see coming: One is Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz, and the other is Amadou Diawara.

Apparently the FFP chickens started coming home to roost for Napoli last season, with the Partenopei unable to keep Ruiz and Diawara paired together for a potential super-midfield. As we all know now, Napoli’s loss was Roma’s gain. But for how long?

We still don’t know if Roma can go through the current transfer window resisting the Premier League overtures for Diawara’s signature but, if Roma do manage to hold onto him, the club will have secured their best defensive player for another season.

And a wizard on the ball, to boot.

Number Two: Amadou Diawara

Torino FC v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Age: 23
Position: Regista/Mediano, Central Midfield
Prior Club: Napoli
Future Comparison: Amadou Diawara

Who Is He?

Diawara is the Roma player who racked up the most interceptions and tackles in the league last season (84), behind only Chris Smalling (96) and Gianluca Mancini (117). Now consider that Diawara made 8 less appearances than Chris Smalling, and ten less appearances than Mancini.

That leaves Diawara with the best tackle and interception rate per game in the entire Roma squad. To top it off, Diawara has the best pressing success percentage (29%) of all Roma midfielders. The way he closes down spaces gives Roma the best chance of neutralizing any threat to the giallorosso backline and defensive third.

His contribution was reckonised by Roma teammates, when everyone stepped aside to let Diawara take a penalty and collect a goal bonus for the last game of the 2019/20 season.

Despite blatantly being one of the best players Roma have ever gotten their hands on, Diawara is also one of those players I’ve given up getting into discussion over. You’re either excited by him or you’re not.

And if you’re not, I get it.

What Can He Do?

AS Roma v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

He lacks explosiveness despite actually being very fast over longer distances, and his eternal poise doesn’t look as pleasing to the eye (for some) as much as a player who’s out there panting, chest heaving and “giving it their all.” You know, the fabled grinta.

But where’s the problem when you’re winning balls at a better rate than any Roma player?

Diawara plays defence better than anyone, and makes a host of other teammates look better while doing it. But that isn’t even the magical part of his game, it’s just the part that has the system-coaches, the latter-day number crunchers and the backpackers purring about him in their analysis pieces online. Even I get bored of that stuff. Too much of a good thing, and all that.

Let’s move onto the fantasista side of his game.

‘This guy is way better than Torreira, we’d practically be robbing them if they accept a swap deal’ - YouTube Hath Spoken

Where the real magic is, is in Diawara’s technique on the ball, his close control in tight spaces, the fact that you could try and close him down and you’d regret the outcome 9.999999999 times out of ten. Once you get over the fact he’s the highest-ranked Serie A midfielder for ball control in 2019/20, you’re still got to digest his range of passing. And that in itself is beautiful to watch.

It’s a paradox but Amadou Diawara is that player Roma have been missing against the smaller clubs. Not because Diawara isn’t a big-match player, but because you need someone who can both unlock the tight spaces, and force the opposition’s defensive block into running from side to side, tiring themselves out until they can’t stand on their feet anymore, let alone see the final through-ball coming.

Against deep-lying teams, Diawara is the guy who hands you the win on a plate. You just have to agree to put the ammo he supplies to good use. And even in the bigger games, he’s the guy you want evading the opponent’s high press. He can dribble past anyone and turn an even-numbers midfield battle into strength in numbers for Roma, real quick.

What Can He Become?

Frosinone Calcio v AS Roma - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Three obstacles stand in his way, and one of those is most obvious to see when you compare Diawara’s performances to Gonzalo Villar’s own.

Though Amadou is still only 23 with time not to settle into any one particular mold, he does look like he’s satisfying himself with being more of a specialist role-player. In short, Diawara’s best comes when he’s exclusively concerned with the non-possession and defensive transition phases of the game, before handing off the duties in the attacking transition and attack phases to other teammates.

Whereas Villar, in such a small amount of time, looks like a talent who can go onto be a force in all four phases. Villar is a potential total football talent. Can we say the same about Diawara? The jury is out. Diawara could do with more vertical passes and better shooting (no one’s asking for double digit goals but simply some kind of individual goal-threat) to lay those doubts to rest.

Second, Diawara is at home being the lone regista in a 4-3-3 or even Fonseca’s 3-4-2-1 midfield (that Diawara takes it upon himself to turn into a 3-1-3-2-1 on the low). He likes the dialogue on the ball with his backline teammates, but he needs to learn how to share duties in a double pivot with guys like Veretout if this show is really going to get on the road.

Finally, more than anything, Diawara needs an injury-free full season of football.

He hasn’t had that under his belt since the days he put up monstrous Serie A interception numbers as a teenager with Bologna. In the future, we could be talking about him following in idol Yaya Toure’s footsteps and becoming the heartbeat of a Barcelona Man City midfield.

But in the interim, Amadou Diawara is a Roma player and I plan on enjoying every minute of it.