Africa Cup of Nations 2012: One to watch – Cheick Diabate

Name: Cheick Diabate

Age: 23

Position: Striker

Club/Nation: Bordeaux/Mali

In early 2010, Frederic Kanoute’s retirement from international football came as a significant blow to Malian football, as the Seville striker reliably scored goals and inspired teammates when playing for his country. However, as any team must, Mali has moved on. Manager Alain Giresse has developed a way of playing without Kanoute, very important to which is another striker with the potential to become his nation’s next big star.

Cheick Diabate has demonstrated this potential during his relatively short career and at club level with ever-increasing frequency for FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The 23-year-old joined the Ligue 1 club’s youth academy in 2006 from Malian-based side Centre Salif Keita. Whilst promoted to Bordeaux’s first team squad for the 2008/09 season, following a run of 18 goals in 35 games for their reserve side, Diabate was subsequently loaned out to AC Ajaccio, whom he helped avoid relegation from Ligue 2 by scoring a club record 14 league goals in a single campaign. Despite this fine form, Diabate endured a frustrating 2009/10 season on loan to AS Nancy, before returning to Bordeaux and earning an extended chance to play in the first team. He embraced this chance in a charismatic and exuberant manner, which met with the approval of Giresse, so much so that the former Bordeaux legend called him up for international duty at the beginning of 2011. This has turned out to be an inspired decision.

Although Diabate’s first international goal arrived during a friendly against Algeria in November 2008, he struggled to make any further impact for his country. However, that all changed after Giresse’s call, with the striker scoring the winning goal against Zimbabwe to greatly enhance Mali’s qualification prospects. That was the first of four goals that Diabate scored out of his country’s overall qualifying total of nine.

In the space of just over six months, with these goals, Diabate substantiated the previous threat he had made in 2008 to establish himself on the international scene, by doing so in one of the best ways possible. Helping his country to qualify for the finals of a major championship, at which he possesses the required attributes to prosper, just like he did at the U-17 African Youth Championship of 2005, scoring three goals – although Mali did not make it beyond the group stage.

At 6ft 4in and athletically built, Diabate poses a considerable aerial threat and physical challenge to opponents. In addition to his powerful physique, he is assured when receiving, and in possession of the ball. The stylish mannerisms that often characterise Diabate’s play, which include the way he staggers his stroll on the way to taking penalties to commit the goalkeeper, make him intriguing to watch, in the same sort of way as Nwankwo Kanu was at the peak of his career.

Whilst this comparison is intended as a huge complement to Diabate, it is also apt, since like Kanu, he is not, as yet, a prolific goalscorer. However, since he has the ability to become one, as indicated by his goal return in qualification, and put smiles on the faces of those who watch him, apart maybe from his opponents that is, Cheick ‘Tidiane’ Diabate is a player to watch out for in Gabon and Equatorial New Guinea.

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