Senegal defensive midfielder Salif Diao will leave behind many admirers when he quits French club Sedan for Liverpool in a œ5million deal next December. “We’re all very sad to lose Salif,” says Sedan striker Cedric Mionnet.

“For the past two years, he’s been one of our most consistent players. He is an incredible force of nature, athletic, hard-working, a great ball-winner. He gives tremendous protection to the defence and can drive forward, too.

“Despite being quite reserved by nature, he is still a leader on the pitch, as was evident during his excellent displays for Senegal at the World Cup. I know the English love Patrick Vieira, and Salif is a lot like him.”

Vieira and Diao do have much in common. They come from the same background – both were born in Senegal but were products of the French footballing system; both are in their mid-20s, powerfully built and fiercely competitive, and both are at their best deep in central midfield.

Unlike Vieira, however, Diao has only started to come into his own in the past couple of years. A graduate of Monaco’s football academy in Dakar, he joined the Monte Carlo club at 18 in late 1995, only to be immediately shipped out on loan to Second Division Epinal.

He was recalled to the Monegasque squad at thestart of the 1997-98 campaign, but it never quite worked out. Over the next three seasons injury problems and competition for places in defensive midfield from Sylvain Legwinski, Costinha, Martin Djetou and Sabri Lamouchi restricted him to just 17 top-flight games.

So Diao jumped at the chance to move north to Sedan in summer 2000. The move was the watershed of his career. While Monaco regarded him strictly as back-up material, Sedan bought him to play, and he responded by becoming an indispensable figure.

“Salif just needed to feel wanted in order to flourish,” explains ex-Sedan boss Alex Dupont. “At Sedan he had the chance to play week in, week out and he hasn’t stopped improving since.”

Not only that, but Diao has even added marksmanshipto his repertoire, scoring twice as Senegal reached the African Nations Cup Final in Mali and capping a flowing pitch-length move with an outstanding finish against Denmark at the World Cup.

More of the same would be very welcome at Anfield.

FACT FILE
Club Sedan (Fra)
Country
Senegal
Born
February 10, 1977, in Kedougou
Previous clubs Epinal (Fra), Monaco (Fra)
International
debut February 1997, v Morocco
International
caps 22 (3 goals)
Honours
French League 2000