Exclusive: Diallo on his move to Town

Drissa Diallo is the first new signing at Portman Road for 20 months. He gave his first full and exclusive interview to EADT Chief Sports Writer Derek Davis over breakfast.WHEN Stan Ternent describes a defender as 'a no-nonsense tackler' then it is reasonable to assume he is going to have a pretty tough edge.

Drissa Diallo is the first new signing at Portman Road for 20 months. He gave his first full and exclusive interview to EADT Chief Sports Writer Derek Davis over breakfast, explaining why he opted for Ipswich Town and how winning promotion comes as second nature to him

WHEN Stan Ternent describes a defender as 'a no-nonsense tackler' then it is reasonable to assume he is going to have a pretty tough edge.

Darren Ambrose has particular cause to remember Drissa Diallo, who made his debut for Burnley against Ipswich last January, and left the former Town midfielder with a nasty cut and a sore head after a painful, if accidental, collision.

Two bookings in 14 games and a string of rave reviews was probably the reason why Clarets boss Ternent, something of a hard man in his day, was desperate to keep the tough tackler who can play a bit and is good in the air.

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Little wonder then that Joe Royle, equally as desperate to add steel and resolve to a leaky Town defence, saw Diallo as his ideal first addition.

At just over six foot tall and athletically built, Drissa or Drilla as he seems to have been nicknamed already, looks just the man to get in where it hurts and add raw strength and passion to the back line.

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But fret not Ipswich purists who enjoy the friendly image the club has, its reputation for fair play and sportsmanship, Drilla may be as hard as the wood his father used to shape into furniture, but he is also a thoroughly decent man.

It was not just because he came down to meet me at his hotel carrying an EADT, usually a sign of the more discerning, or that he was prompt – timekeeping and footballers don't usually go together – it was his whole demeanour.

He apologised in advance for his English – he had no need – and after quickly establishing my French was 'pretty poor' we chatted non-stop for more than an hour.

After six months of broad Lancastrian, he strained occasionally to adjust to my accent but there will be no language barriers in the dressing room, except possibly tying to understand an animated Jim Magilton in full blood-curdling Irish.

Although born in Mauritania, Drilla moved to Paris at aged four and was brought up in the French capital by his parents who hailed from Guinea.

After playing locally and then for AS Brevannes, Drilla joined Sedan and helped them to two promotions. Success at Liege in Belgium prompted a move to Mechelen where he won championship medals in 1998 and 2000.

Like Joe Royle he knows what it takes to get out of a tough division.

He also knows what it is like to be with a cash-strapped club and after going without pay for three months at Mechelen, who then went into liquidation, he and his team-mates were allowed to leave.

"It was a very hard time for everyone and friends told me I should go to England to play."

Thus his journey into English football began, starting at Fratton Park.

Drilla explained: "Harry Redknapp told me I had what it takes to play in England but could not offer me a contract at the time. He said I could stay and train with them, which I did, and he helped me find a club and he recommended me to Burnley."

A week after his 30th birthday last January, Drissa Diallo's name appeared on the team-sheet at Turf Moor, at the end of a whirlwind week for the international defender.

He said: "I trained with them on Tuesday and the manager wanted me to play for the reserves against Huddersfield on Wednesday but my international clearance did not come through. I trained with the first team on Thursday, he said he wanted to sign me and two hours before deadline my clearance came through and I was able to play against Ipswich."

Royle remembered his man-of-the-match performance and he nipped in to whisk him away from under his old mate Stan's nose.

Drilla missed the last two games of the season and Royle invited him to watch Town play the final game of the season at Pride Park where they beat Derby 4-1.

While Ternent made it clear he wanted to sign him the Burnley board dithered and with his mind made up, Drilla then had to wait until Ipswich came out of administration before the deal could be completed.

Not that it was easy to leave Turf Moor.

He said: "I remembered Ipswich were good as a team. They are one of the best footballing teams in the First Division, the way they kept possession of the ball. It is not enough to play good football, you need to be tough also.

"I really enjoyed my time at Burnley. It was easy to adjust because I went straight into the team and I was accepted very quickly. The manager was brilliant with me from day one, he believed in me and wanted me to play. That was fantastic, He is a very good man, very honest, he tells you face to face.

"It was difficult to leave Burnley, the manager wanted me to stay and wanted to offer me a deal but had to wait for the chairman. At the same time Ipswich came in and made me an offer and I couldn't really wait any longer for Burnley.

"I know Ipswich are a very good team, trying to get back into the Premiership so I spoke with Joe Royle and decided to sign for Ipswich.

"I had been invited to watch the Ipswich game at Derby and I was impressed again with them."

After years of watching English football on television, the style of play did not come as a surprise to the nimble defender.

He said: "I don't really watch Italian football or Spanish football and I only watch English football on the television.

"I used to watch Match of the Day when I was in Belgium and I saw Ipswich a lot on the television. They were a very good team and I especially remember Titus Bramble and 'Mr Ipswich' Matt Holland.

"I like the English mentality and the atmosphere in the stadium. I'm looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd at Portman Road.

"It is much quicker here; the game is faster than France. When you are a defender you also have to pass and play the ball. French people want you to be more than a defender but here you are first a defender then a passer."

Two goals in those 14 games at Burnley show he is not afraid to get forward. One was against Fulham in the FA Cup, the other against Gillingham in the league – both headers, both celebrated in style.

These helped him become a favourite at Turf Moor, acclaiming him by adapting the chorus from the song 'I am a Music Man' to 'Dia-Dia-Diallo'.

They may not be so adoring after October 14 when the teams meet at Portman Road even though good mate Mo Camara has joined them on his recommendation and Stan the Man sent him a good luck message.

Drilla added: "Mo is very good player with a good mentality and I said he would be good for Burnley. He was at my wedding in Guinea and got permission from Stan the manager to miss the beginning of pre-season.

"He said 'no problem', and he sent me a card wishing me all the best for the wedding and at Ipswich, 'but not against us'

"I'm very grateful to him, he gave me the opportunity to start my career in England and I will never forget him for that. I know when Joe Royle asked about me he said very nice things about me even though he knew he could be losing me."

I am sure many opponents this season will find that Drilla is the sort of guy you would enjoy spending time with but would not fancy trying to go past him, ball at feet, just outside the 18-yard box.

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