Four days after the passing of the legendary Diego Maradona, a dark week for the footballing world just got darker.
RIP Papa Bouba Diop
Sadly, the news recently broke that Senegalese midfielder Papa Bouba Diop died in Paris at the young age of 42.
The towering midfielder lost his battle with a long-term illness and will be sadly missed by all.
Most fans will remember Papa Bouba Diop for his time in the Premier League. Arriving in 2004 to sign for Fulham, after impressing with French side Lens. He would even finish his career in England with Birmingham City in 2013. Spells with Portsmouth and West Ham United were sandwiched in between.
Despite winning an FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008, his time in England wasn’t blessed with mountains of honours.
However, as we know, winning silverware isn’t the be-all and end-all in a player’s career.
Diop garnered a reputation as a physical and crafty presence you didn’t want to mess with. He was often compared to Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira in that respect.
His 6ft 5 stature and hefty build earned him the nickname ‘The Wardrobe’ and it’s easy to see why. While he did cut an imposing figure, his game was much more diverse than that.
Papa was very composed with the ball at his feet for a big man and certainly knew where the goal was. He was deceptively quick and once he got going was extremely awkward to stop.
Praise was always showered upon him during his playing career. The great Paul Scholes once noted “you get involved physically with him and you’re wasting your time.”
His physical attributes were unique to the Premier League at the time.
We have seen plenty of big central midfielders but not many with the speed and silk of Papa Bouba Diop. Again, like Patrick Vieira and even Yaya Toure.
While you probably wouldn’t say Diop is in the same league as those two, the style of play was almost identical.
Time In England
Diop made his Premier League debut for Fulham on the 14th of August 2004. Playing the full 90 minutes against Manchester City on the opening day of the 2004/05 season.
His first Premier League goal came that season in a 4-1 defeat at home to Chelsea. Netting the first of his 10 league goals during his time in the English topflight.
He would even go on the win Fulham’s OPTA Player of the Season award that year.
Diop would become a clear fan favourite at Fulham. Fans would be devastated when he left to sign for Portsmouth on deadline day in 2007 after three seasons with London side.
There was no animosity towards the move. Papa left ‘The Cottagers’ as a cult hero and understandably Fulham have been deeply saddened by his passing.
The club would release a short but sweet statement saying “We are devastated to hear news reports this evening that Papa Bouba Diop has passed away, aged 42. Rest well, Wardrobe.”
As previously mentioned, the move to Portsmouth earned Diop an FA Cup winners medal in 2008. He only came on for the last 20 minutes in the final, but Diop’s importance can’t be understated in that game.
He made some vital crunching tackles and won the ball back in key areas to ensure Pompey held on to their 1-0 lead.
After a spell in Greece with AEK Athens, Papa would return to England in 2011 on a free transfer to West Ham.
It was a short one season spell. He would help West Ham gain promotion back to the Premier League via the 2012 Championship Play-Off final.
Despite this, Diop would remain in the Championship with Birmingham for the following 2012/13 campaign. He never truly got going at St. Andrew’s due to nagging injuries.
Diop made a total of 147 Premier League appearances. Along with playing professionally in Senegal, Switzerland, France, and Greece during his 17-year career from 1996 until 2013.
Diop won the Swiss Super League with Grasshopper after the 2000/01 season and the Greek Cup with AEK Athens in 2011. Along with the already mentioned FA Cup and Championship Play-Off final triumphs in England.
No doubting it’s a club career that would make many professional footballers green with envy.
It was one moment with his national side Senegal that really made Papa a global household name.
2002 With Senegal
Diop had quite the newsworthy year with his beloved Senegal in 2002.
He picked up a silver medal in the Africa Cup of Nations, losing 3-2 on penalties to Cameroon in the final.
Heart-breaking at the time, but Diop would have his moment in the sun later in the year.
Senegal faced France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup hosted by Japan and South Korea. France were the reigning World Cup champions after their success as the host country in 1998.
The African nation ripped up the script on the night, shocking the world champions and everyone watching.
They beat the French 1-0 and started the tournament off with a bang.
It was a close-range effort from Papa Bouba Diop that clinched the historic victory for Senegal. The celebrations after the goal and the game were jubilant and would melt even the coldest of hearts, especially now after the passing of Papa.
Senegal would qualify from Group A just two points behind group winners Denmark, without losing a single game.
They would even go on to beat Sweden in the last 16 after a Henri Camara golden goal.
Senegal found themselves on the wrong end of a golden goal in the quarter-final stage. They fell victim to a 1-0 defeat to eventual fourth place finishers, Turkey.
Senegal and Diop did everyone proud back home during that World Cup.
Diop scored three goals during the 2002 edition of the prestigious tournament, three years after making his international debut back in 1999.
Overall, Papa represented his country 63 times and bagged 11 goals in the process.
The Legacy Of Papa Bouba Diop
Diop was a man with bags of ability and potential.
He may not have been the most well-known name but those in the footballing community knew all about the big man.
Diop will be remembered as a somewhat underrated player and as a hidden gem in the history of the Premier League.
Mostly remembered for his time at Fulham, he quickly became beloved by the Fulham faithful and later respected by football fans the world over.
The news of his premature passing rocked and saddened many that had the opportunity to witness him play.
During this devastating time, our love goes out to all that knew him.
All we have left now are the memories and highlights of a credible career that provided us with one of the best World Cup moments of all time.
FIFA said it best in their statement on Papa’s passing when they said, “Once a World Cup hero, always a World Cup hero.”