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Ousmane Diomande: Sporting CP’s Rolls Royce

Ousmane Diomande has rose to prominence during his time with Sporting CP since joining from FC Midtjylland in 2020, and when you watch the Ivorian defender play, it’s no surprise he’s become one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe. Sporting are on course to win their second consecutive Liga Portugal title under the guidance of Ruben Amorim, and Diomande has been a major asset in allowing the former Braga boss to play the exact style of football he’s wanted to play.

Diomande joined OS Abobo in Ivory Coast as a ten-year-old boy and played for the club for six years before making the switch to Europe in 2020 to join FC Midtjylland. Abobo have produced many top players in the past, with the club having a major reputation in Africa and across Europe for their high-end production of footballers, and the AFCON-winning defender could end up being the best player they’ve ever played a part in making.

Ousmane Diomande
LISBON, PORTUGAL – OCTOBER 5: Ousmane Diomande of Sporting CP in action during the Group D – UEFA Europa League 2023/24 match between Sporting CP and Atalanta BC at Estadio Jose Alvalade on October 5, 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Midtjylland & the Early Days:

FC Midtjylland paid Abobo an undisclosed fee back in 2020, but Diomande did not go straight into the starting line-up or even the squad immediately upon his arrival at the club. His first six months were spent in the youth system of the Danish side, making 15 appearances for the U19s while also appearing twice in the UEFA Youth League against Club Brugge and SL Benfica.

Ousmane began to learn English two months prior to his transfer to Midtjylland, which made settling into his new surroundings a bit easier. Things happened very quickly for the young player, who grew up watching some of the Ivorian players who had made a name for themselves in the Premier League. Yaya Toure is unsurprisingly one of the players he had huge admiration for growing up, but other players such as Solomon Kalou and even former Manchester United defender Eric Bailly were also some of the professionals he took inspiration from.

Diomande’s Move to Sporting:

“Diomande is fast and I wanted a strong player for duels and with the ability to have the ball, and that was what he demonstrated today. We’re going to need all the players for the rest of the season.”

Ruben Amorim on Ousmane Diomande.

Diomande’s next move may have been where Sporting CP initially spotted his talent. In August 2022, FC Midtjylland agreed to allow the 20-year-old to join Mafra in the Portuguese second division on loan. He made 17 appearances during his time at Mafra, including a 2-2 draw against Sporting’s intense rival FC Porto in the Allianz Cup.

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While at Mafra, Diomande showcased an array of talents that caught the eye of some of the top clubs in the world. His ability on the ball was one of the standout traits initially, with the 20-year-old able to break lines with ease, even under intense pressure. It’s a trait that every top defender in the top sides in Europe has and needs, and the former Abobo centre-back proved week in and week out that he has it in abundance. His long passing is one of his standout traits, made even more impressive by the fact that he can do it with both feet to a similar level.The next thing that caught the eye was his blistering pace. His recovery pace is among the best in the Liga Portugal, which allows the teams he plays for to play a high line and be more aggressive.

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Ivory Coast’s defender #2 Ousmane Diomande reacts during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 group A football match between Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Olympic Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan, on January 13, 2024. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

His time at Mafra proved his class, and when the January transfer window in 2023 came around, Sporting CP wasted no time in launching a bid to sign the defender, eventually agreeing a €7.5 million deal to bring him into the club on January 31st, 2023. Diomande made his debut 6 days later against Rio Ave, coming off the bench to feature for two minutes, and made his full starting debut on the 20th of February against Chaves in a 3-2 win.

During his first season at the club, Diomande won more tackles per game (1.33) than his two defensive partners, Goncalo Inacio and Jerry St.Juste. He also averaged more tackles and interceptions combined, at 3.37. This season, Ousmane has the highest tackle percentage out of three Sporting CP central defenders, at 77.3%. He is losing just 0.21 tackles per 90 minutes, which is again the best rate of any defender at the club, and he’s doing all this at just 20 years of age.

In possession, Diomande is just as impressive. He ranks in the top 7% of players in the top five leagues for passes attempted at 72.69 per game. Diomande is completing 5.02 progressive passes per 90, again ranking him in the top 11% of defenders in the top leagues in Europe.

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When compared with players within the league, he has the third highest accurate forward pass percentage, bettered only by Benfica’s Antonio Silva and Fabio Cardoso from Porto. He has the third highest overall pass success rate too, at 93.57%, and has successfully won the fourth highest amount of defensive duels per 90 minutes out of any other player in the division, with no player under the age of 21 winning more than him. When factoring in every statistic, Ousmane Diomande is the highest rated defender in the Liga Portugal, as per Data MB.

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The sporting defender has been described by those close to him as a player with a very strong work ethic who truly values hard work. Diomande takes personal pride in putting in his very best effort into everything he does and is described as an extremely passionate young player. His achievements since moving to Portugal have been nothing short of incredible, with the AFCON win with his country in January being a career highlight for any footballer, let alone a player who is just 20 years old.

The Abidjan-born Ivorian played the first two games of his country’s triumph, keeping a clean sheet in the first game against Guinea Bissau. He was the second youngest player in the entire squad at 20 years old and the youngest defender in the team, with the closest player to him being Odilon Kossounou at 23 years of age.

There is massive pride from those close to the player at what he’s achieved so far, but they are also aware there is a long way to go in his career, especially considering what he wants to achieve as a player. The centre-back dreams of playing football at the highest level, which would include hopefully winning another AFCON tournament with his nation, Ivory Coast, and one day possibly lifting one of the most coveted prizes in the whole of club football, the Champions League trophy. Winning that tournament has been described as another childhood dream for the player, as he would be following in the footsteps of his childhood idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.

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What does the future hold?

There have been a number of links suggesting that Ousmane could leave Sporting CP this summer, but up until now, nothing concrete has happened between any clubs, and his focus remains in Portugal for the rest of the campaign. There are various clubs with admiration for his qualities, which is to be expected, with Premier League sides like Arsenal and Newcastle United being heavily linked in recent weeks, but neither club has made a concrete approach to the player. Arsenal have definitely been following the progress he’s made in recent months but are yet to make a formal offer or approach, quelling the recent reports that a deal is close.

Diomande has a release clause at Sporting of €80 million valid this summer, and despite the magnitude of the fee, it would not be a surprise to see the clause triggered by one of Europe’s elite sides. Ousmane is regarded as one of the best defenders under the age of 21 on the planet, possibly sharing the accolade for number one with Lenny Yoro from French club Lille, who is also a hot commodity this summer.

From his hard work ethic, to his journey from Ivory Coast to the world’s biggest stages in Portugal and even playing under the starry lights of the Champions League, Ousmane Diomande has all the attributes and potential to become one of the best defenders on the planet over the next decade. He has the desire to play at the highest level and win the biggest competitions, and it’s going to be a pleasure watching him try to realise his dreams in the coming seasons.

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