Former Player Progress Report: Hannover 96 Fan Discusses Mame Biram Diouf

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By Achim Bauch.

Get Diouf or die trying

If you take the time for a second to imagine that you are a Senegalese teenager, you’re an over-performing striker for a team called Diaraf Dakar and you are hoping for a professional footballing career in Europe. You may dream of the big clubs like Manchester United while the realist in you would be happy with any signing that enables you to start a professional career in Europe. And then you are offered a contract from…whaa? Norway? The contract with Molde FK would start in January. You know that European winters are cold. You may hear that Oslo is particularly cold, but Molde is far North of Oslo.

You bet that temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius are hard to cope with for a Senegalese. But a diligent striker like Diouf knows how to fight the cold. He is not the kind of a striker waiting in the box for a cross; he is the kind of a striker that is all over the pitch, incredibly fast for any standard in European football and never content with himself.

Despite (or because of) the cold, Diouf took Norway by storm and scored in almost every second game. And as soon as you are performing well in Norway, you put yourself on the radar of Hannover’s Managing Director, Jörg Schmadtke. He has the reputation of almost never disappointing when it comes to signing a striker. Schmadtke repeatedly uttered his belief that the style of football displayed in Norway is similar to Bundesliga football and, wherever you may come from: If you can handle winter in Norway, you are hardcore enough to cope with Lower Saxony. He became convinced that Diouf had what it takes to become a brilliant Bundesliga striker.

So he and his head scout contacted Diouf and his agent to let them know of their interest and visited him on a regular basis. Unfortunately, Manchester United intervened in July 2009 and signed the 21 year old top scorer of the Tippeligaen who would remain on loan in Norway for the rest of the year. “We weren’t intending on signing anyone else after last week – we feel we have a full squad – but the situation accelerated to a point where other clubs started to make bids, so we had to decide whether we acted or didn’t act,” Alex Ferguson said back then. Thus, there was another exciting January in store for Diouf.

But a disappointed Schmadkte never gave up or lost sight of Diouf who- as fate would have it-never really got to play in the Premier League. Together with Coach Mirko Slomka he went to Manchester to watch him play for the United Reserve Team. Apparently, it didn’t take much persuasion skills to convince Slomka to sign Diouf and Sir Alex let him go for a reasonable price. Again Diouf would move in January. This time his move might have not been quite as exciting for the young man and, you might expect, maybe with a pinch of sadness having disappointed the highest of expectations. However, 96 fans became acquainted with the most amicable 50 Cent double in the history of mankind. Hannover would be the young man’s breakthrough in a European top-league. Diouf joined a team that was seventh after the first half of the season and had made it through the Euro League group stage although it was only Hannover’s first international campaign since 1992.

His pace, his ridiculous aerial dominance in both boxes and his natural willingness to defend whenever the ball is lost brought a new quality to Hannover’s attack, leaving it unimaginable how good the Red Devils must be if Diouf didn’t even make it onto the bench. The test match against 96 last summer curtailed the respect for United a wee bit as they only won thanks to the quality of Rooney’s diving skills.

While it is hard to describe Hannover’s style and tactics as Mirko Slomka changes the basic concept gradually, 96 usually plays a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders and two wingers. Traditionally, Slomka does not care too much about possession; instead the idea is to attack as fast and efficiently as possible. This vertical style does not work when the team lies behind or the opponent’s general aim is to obstruct Hannover’s game. Without room to launch counter-attacks, Hannover seems lost. But when it comes to counter-attacking, Diouf is a nightmare for any defence. There is hardly anyone as fast as him in the already fast paced Bundesliga. Plus, Diouf does not fall as easily as so many wimps that contaminate Bundesliga football with their annoying presence. Instead, he uses his body like a buffer stop.

For an often uninspired and tired Bundesliga side producing low quality deliveries, he scored 15 goals and generated 7 assists in 27 league fixtures (as of 9th February 2013). He shot 7 goals in 9 Euro League appearances. He paved the way to the Euro League quarterfinals where he scored in both games against the later Cup Winner Atletico Madrid. While many of his goals are headers, the most astonishing goal was the 20 metres overhead kick against Schalke. But it is not only his goals that make Diouf so extremely popular among 96 fans, it is his inspiring determination and his pure will to run more than anyone else on the pitch. He usually has the most sprints and the highest maximum speed (up to 35 km/h), plus he scores and helps out in his own box if rendered necessary. In a match against Hoffenheim he had 33 sprints. He can be targeted with long balls from the defence or the keeper, yet he comes out on top and delivers the ball to one of the midfielders. If you want my 50 cents worth, there is not a shadow of a doubt that he is our most valuable player, measuring value not in terms of money but in performance on the pitch and the positive West African vibes that have permeated da club since the jovial Diouf joined the squad. Plus, he is not as money-craving and overrated as his American double. He is the real deal. Rumour has it that Jürgen Klopp is aware of that too…

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