Paolo Di Canio and his new director of football Roberto De Fanti’s summer recruitment drive has begun with the capture of three Bosman free agents but it is the name, and stature, of Modibo Diakite that stands out. Diakite has long been on Premier League radars due to his sheer physicality and size. He is 6’4′ and also quick and very strong. He is an excellent aerial presence and capable of dominating games. He would appear at first glance to be an ideal partner to the more cerebral John O’Shea and the talk is that they beat several big teams such as Juventus, Napoli and Liverpool to get him.
Diakite is one of those players who has always been highly regarded, but at Lazio he struggled to impose himself on the first team. The 2011/12 was his best in terms of games played with 25 in Serie A, not playing at all last season. This is for a couple of reasons. When new manager Vladimir Petkovic arrived at Lazio last summer Diakite was out injured and he remained so until November. By that point Lazio had established a central defensive pairing of the more reliable, but less dominating, 36 and 34 year old pairing of Biava and Andre Dias. Petkovic is something of a disciplinarian, a man who expects nothing but endeavour and hard work at all times and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Sounds a little like Paolo Di Canio right?
Under Petkovic Lazio play a more tactically sophisticated brand of football than most teams in the Premier League. One of the knocks on Diakite has been that his positioning and footballing intelligence is a weakness, and it is a weakness that didn’t sit right with what Petkovic needed from his defence. If he needed big physical athletes he wouldn’t have wheeled out a defence with a combined age of 70. He needed positional discipline and organisation and with two deep-sitting midfielders to protect them and do the running. It made Diakite expendable for Lazio’s specific system and personnel, but by no means undesirable for other teams.
Despite only playing once last season Diakite attracted interest from around Europe. Mostly, these teams were looking at his raw tools and wondering if, with the right coaching, they could make him a starter. But Diakite wanted to start right now, and so Sunderland had an advantage. If Diakite has a great year in England, as a starter, he still has a chance of making the French World Cup squad in an area that France aren’t overstocked with talent. Sunderland give him that platform.
Still, beating the likes of Napoli and Juventus to a player is still quite an achievement. All it would take is an injury there and he could be in the Champions League, so Sunderland obviously sold themselves well. The presence of Lazio idol Di Canio no doubt helps, and he will be more than aware of how best to use Diakite. He has all the physical capabilities needed for success in the Premier League and if they pair him with a positionally sound O’Shea, with some good midfield protection he can be a big hit.