Amad Diallo arrived at Manchester United’s training ground for the first time on Wednesday to survey his new surroundings.
The teenage whizkid will be hoping to play his part in a potential title challenge in the second half of the season – something that looked extremely unlikely when his potential £37million transfer (£19million up front) was initially outlined back in October.
Since that deal was announced, there has been no shortage of hype where the 18-year-old arrival from Atalanta is concerned.
That he subsequently played little for the Serie A side as it became clear he would be heading through the exit door – only 35 minutes across two substitute appearances – has done little to slow that particular train down.
Rather, it has only added to the mystery of the Ivory Coast-born starlet, who scored just four minutes into his senior debut in October 2019 and has only around one hour of senior competitive football under his belt, despite being likened to Lionel Messi by his former captain in Bergamo, Papu Gomez.
This week former United defender Rio Ferdinand, speaking on his FIVE podcast, added his voice to the excitement: “If you see his clips and speak to people at the club who are involved in buying him, potentially this kid could be a world-beater.
“That is the thought of Manchester United people, that this kid is one they have unearthed.
“I don’t want to put the pressure of [Cristiano] Ronaldo on him. But no one knew about Ronaldo when we bought him other than the people in Portugal.
“This kid seems similar in that sense. If you see his clips and the way people talk about him, the world is his oyster. But he has to apply himself right.”
Many of those clips Ferdinand speaks of, show Diallo skating around defenders sometimes two years old than him as he played above himself in youth football.
However, amid Ferdinand’s own enthusiasm, were clearly distinguishable and important caveats.
Chief among them is the fact that there is a lot of work to be done.
Diallo’s talent isn’t in question, but talent only gets you so far; football history is littered with prodigious youth stars whose precocious abilities failed to transition to senior level for one reason or another. United have had a few themselves.
The other thing to bear in mind is the transfer fee.
This isn’t Manchester United spending mega bucks because of what Diallo is; it’s dropping huge money because of what he can become.
For United, Diallo is an investment. They’re playing the futures market, hoping that in four, five or six years time, they’ll have paid up the prospective bonus payments and Diallo will still be a snip.
Having tracked him for a number of years, they’re confident that he’ll prove them right. But it won’t be today, nor will it be tomorrow.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already called for time where his new No.19 is concerned.
“Having watched him myself, I believe he is one of the most exciting young prospects in the game.
“Manchester United has such a proud history of developing young players and everything is in place to enable Amad to reach his potential here.”
“It will take time for him to adapt but his speed, vision and fantastic dribbling ability will stand him in good stead to make the transition.
“He is a player with all of the raw attributes that are needed to be an important player for Manchester United in the years to come.”
Opportunities will invariably come Diallo’s way – ultimately, his price tag ensures so – but given United’s current plethora of attacking options, Solskjaer can pick and choose when to drop in Diallo.
The man formerly known as the Baby-Faced Assassin knows there is no rush and is unlikely to care one iota for ‘#GaveDialloAChance’, ‘#FreeDiallo’ or any other social media concoctions between now and the end of the season.
Diallo’s arrival coincides with the exit of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, once hailed as a United star of the future, who has joined Bayer Leverkusen in a £1.7million deal.
The Dutchman, who turned 23 earlier this month, moved to Old Trafford seven years ago from Ajax, at the age of 16, without the big fee, but having been a shining star at De Toekomst.
He impressed in United’s Under-23s, both in midfield and defence, but never truly imposed himself on the first team, for whom he made 30 appearances, twice being sent on loan – to Crystal Palace and Fulham – before his permanent exit for Germany.
Fosu-Mensah’s exit in itself is a reminder that the path ahead of Diallo is far from certain.
Imposing himself in training and showing senior pros that he belongs is Diallo’s first task. He can’t be overawed in training.
After that, he needs to impose himself on the first-team setup and take opportunities when presented his way in matches, in the way that Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney did after signing for big money, and how Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have after progressing through the youth system.
There is a long road ahead, full of triumphs and disappointment, each of which will need to be navigated. How Diallo deals with both, will ultimately decide whether his undoubted potential is fulfilled or if the club are left to look foolish.
It will be down to the youngster to make the most of the opportunities that come his way. United have gambled a potential £37million that he will.
Pictured at Carrington on Wednesday, he already looked right at home.
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