Grady Diang: Hammer to Baggie
Danny Lewis writes about Grady Diang, the perfect player for West Ham's reinvention, who will soon be sold to league rivals West Brom.
Grady Diang is set to re-join West Bromwich Albion on a permanent deal in the coming days, following his loan season there last term. When West Ham United fans found out the news that he would be leaving their club, for good, there was complete uproar. #GSBOUT ranked as the top trend in the UK on Twitter as fans vented their anger towards the club's board: David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady. The impending sale of Diang isn't the single contributing factor to such contempt, but it encapsulates the deep-rooted exasperation that engulfs the club and its current ownership group.
West Brom weren't the only club after him – Aston Villa and Fulham were too, reportedly. It's no surprise that clubs were fighting over his talent, especially after the role he played in the Baggies' promotion from the Championship last season. The question is why the Hammers are willing to sell him, and that is only accentuated by the fact they are reported to be receiving a fee under £20 million – with some outlets reporting an initial fee of £12m with add-ons.
If reports are to be believed, David Moyes wants him to stay and so to do his team-mates. It’s pretty clear that Hammers fans do as well. Why is there such commotion over a player who has only played 20-odd times for the club? The answer to that is obvious when analysing him.
Looking at the very short term, Diang has been the poster boy of West Ham’s pre-season. His performance against Ipswich Town showed the potential link-up he can have with Sébastien Haller, as he assisted all three of the striker’s goals, while also having a say in Tomáš Souček’s:
There will also be memories of his impressive debut for the club, during an 8-0 League Cup victory over Macclesfield Town in September 2018, in which he scored twice. It can be easy for players to show flair, confidence and trickery in these situations. The purpose of his loan at West Brom was to test his skillset on a regular basis in a highly-competitive league; he passed that test with flying colours.
In total, the winger made 23 league starts and seven substitute appearances for Slaven Bilić’s side, as they finished second to Leeds United. During this spell there, Diang managed a haul of eight goals and six assists. While the numbers alone represent a good return, it's the variation in the ways he got those 14 goal contributions which stands out.
As already mentioned, Diang’s footwork and trickery are among his biggest strengths. He completed an average of 3.5 dribbles per 90 minutes while being fouled 2.1 times per 90 last term. What is so impressive about this is his ability to keep hold of the ball in tight spaces, but he's just as good at bursting forward at pace to exploit larger spaces too.
His assist for Matt Phillips in the 4-2 win against Huddersfield Town displayed his ability to keep possession while under pressure, as he jinked his way past four players before squaring the ball. Meanwhile, his goal in a 3-2 victory over Blackburn Rovers – finished off with a beautiful dinked shot – showed how devastating he can be in open space, as he isolated a defender and sprinted away from him. However, it's his assist for Callum Robinson, in a 2-2 draw against Queens Park Rangers, which combined both skills the best. He exhibited composure, patience and quick thinking to get away from two defenders, before roaming forward and putting a low cross in towards the Republic of Ireland international:
Diang also shows intelligence with his passing, often managing to get his team-mates into threatening positions. His six assists are an obvious representation of that, but it can also be seen through his two shot assists per 90.
Moreover, the England under-21 international also has an eye for openings and possesses good enough movement to take advantage of them. An example came in the 2-0 win over Derby County, in which he darted behind the defence, before touching the ball out of his feet and beating Ben Hamer with a cute finish.
The 22-year-old’s assist for Phillips in a 2-0 victory over Stoke City highlighted both of the aforementioned traits. Having received the ball on the left wing, he played a one-two with Jake Livermore, ghosted behind the defence and put the chance on a plate for his fellow winger.
With so much pace, and the ability to make the most of it, some defenders may choose to step off him. Luton Town and Cardiff City both found out that this does not always work, as the winger scored goals from range against both of them. This, alongside the previous examples, indicate just how varied a threat he is.
Aside from the quality he possesses, there is also a selflessness in Diang’s play, along with a willingness to work hard defensively for his team. His hard-working can be fruitful, as was the case in a 4-1 win against Bristol City: Diang nipped in to make the most of a loose headed pass, then raced away, before showing further selflessness and awareness by cleverly backheeling the ball for Kieran Gibbs to score.
David Moyes has said that he wants to build a young and exciting team at West Ham that will get fans on the edge of their seats; Diang is – or was – the perfect personification of that plan. Watching him provide Haller with chances or team up with Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen to execute an energetic pressing game would give many West Ham fans hope going forward.
However, he's being allowed to leave for West Brom, who will have their own sense of excitement about what they will be getting having seen his quality for themselves last season. Considering they've already converted Matheus Pereira's loan from Sporting CP into a permanent deal, they've now managed to keep two of their greatest creators from last season's promotion.
That will be no consolation to West Ham fans, who now miss out on seeing one of their most promising youngsters turning out in claret and blue on a regular basis. This is only worsened by the lack of faith they have in the board to effectively reinvest the funds brought in from the sale. Grady Diang embodies excitement and hope; the opposite is true of West Ham.