Top Norwegian scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen offers his assessment of shock Utd signing Mame Biram Diouf.
Top Norwegian scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen offers his assessment of shock Manchester United signing Mame Biram Diouf.
Manchester United's capture of Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf may have stunned the footballing world - and the player himself - but it could prove to be yet another canny piece of business from that shrewd mover Sir Alex Ferguson, who no doubt hopes Diouf will have a similar impact to his last shock signing from Molde, a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Having arrived in the picturesque coastal town of Molde - currently hosting a world-famous jazz festival - as a teenager in 2007 along with his countryman and striking partner, Pape Pate Diouf (locally branded "the mames & the papes"), the front-man has made great progress this season after initially showing big promise but little end product.
Helped by the sublime passing and playmaking abilities of Molde's third Senegalese, El Hadji Makhtar Thioune - a new recruit this season - Mame Biram Diouf has shrugged off his earlier struggles to score regularly and show that not only can he sniff out a great chance, he can put it away with the best of them.
Diouf was already a hot topic among European scouts when Molde hosted Brann last Sunday. In front of a dozen potential buyers the hot shot striker scored four goals, including a hat-trick within the opening ten minutes of the game.
The astonishing display of power, strength and finesse stoked the rumours linking the striker with a move abroad to a roar, with several German, Dutch and French clubs reportedly interested in signing the player. Yet when Old Trafford was revealed as the player's destination at a press conference given by Molde on Friday lunchtime, there was a general feeling of disbelief that he should end up at such a club.
But there were helpful circumstances coupled with the striker's hot form which conspired in favour of the deal. In 1996 Ole Gunnar Solskjær, currently the reserve team manager at Old Trafford and a firm Sir Alex Ferguson protégée was signed from the same Norwegian side, amid similar raised eyebrows, and the Scot will be hoping the African can script a similar Cinderella-story.
Moreover, the fact that Diouf is represented by Solskjær's longstanding agent and friend, Jim Solbakken, himself responsible for bringing several Norwegian academy players to Manchester United, would have done him no harm either.
Although the details of the financial settlements between the clubs are to remain undisclosed - the press are speculating about a fee of around £4 million - Diouf will remain at Molde until the end of the Norwegian season in order to help their title quest (they are currently trailing Rosenborg by four points). Having only represented his country briefly at youth level, United will face a challenge to convince the Home Office to grant the Senegalese a work permit upon his scheduled arrival in January.
So will the gamble pay off? Diouf's ability to perform in a physical European league speaks in his favour and he's hoping to follow in the footsteps of John Obi Mikel, another African recruit via Norwegian league football which, bar the obvious shortcomings in technique and overall quality, is comparable to the Premier League in that the pace is high and time on the ball is limited.
And whereas dozens of African players have failed to settle in Scandinavia, Diouf has adapted to the harsh, chilly climate of coastal Norway (coming from tropical Senegal he was already accustomed to heavy rainfall - so Manchester should be a doddle for him) and developed into a hard-working, disciplined and tactically adept team player who has also blended in well socially, showing a maturity that beggars his young age.
In addition to his new-found goalscoring abilities, the young Senegalese also sports an impressive physique, blistering pace and a direct approach to his game that makes him a nightmare for opposing defenders.
Combined with a more than decent aerial ability, the eagerness to fight for every ball and run for 90 minutes - which should endear him to the Old Trafford faithful - Diouf is on his way to turning into a complete forward who might just surprise this winter... though not those in Sir Alex's camp.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a renowned football scout who's been on the staff of Watford, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Hannover 96 among others.