Window Shopping: Is Moussa Diaby Worth An Expensive Gamble?
3:41 PM EST on January 27, 2023
Welcome to Window Shopping, a recurring feature in which Defector highlights and analyzes some of the biggest players rumored for a big-money transfer each window. Each summer and January, we will take a look at these potential stars in order to answer two simple questions: Who the heck is this guy, and why is he worth so much money?
I'm always to curious to see what a club does after they get pipped. To be pipped is to lose out on a transfer target at the last moment, as some other more prepared and/or wealthier club jumped the line to secure a signature. This is what just happened to Arsenal: After a quick but powerful courting of Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk, the Gunners lost out on the Ukrainian to Chelsea and Todd Boehly's seemingly infinite appetite for players who absolutely can't play any defense.
So, cool, that was a bit of a wet fart for Arsenal, but this is where things become more interesting. The Gunners could go one of two ways in the final days of the January window: They could stand pat and hope that the current roster is enough to win the Premier League that they currently lead by five points with a game in hand, or they could make a different but similarly sized splash on the attacker market. This is where Moussa Diaby enters the fray.
The 23-year-old French winger currently plies his trade at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, and he is surprisingly available for a player of his caliber. A Paris Saint-Germain youth academy product, Diaby has been stellar since moving to Germany in the summer of 2019: In three-and-a-half seasons, he has 28 goals and 32 assists, the latter stat putting him as the leader for players 23 and under in the top five leagues in Europe.
That he is at Leverkusen at this particular moment in time also bodes well for Diaby's chances to make a move in the final few days of the window. Though the Black and Reds finished third last season in the Bundesliga, they are currently mired in eighth. Their Champions League campaign has also fizzled out, sending the club instead to the Europa League, courtesy of a third-place finish in a very winnable group B.
This means Leverkusen might want to capitalize on Diaby's price tag while it is as high as it ever has been—rumored to be around €75 million. It would be hard to see this move happening if Leverkusen were in the Champions League, or in the top four of the Bundesliga, but the time could be right for a club with higher aspirations, like Arsenal, to drop a monumentally sized bag for Diaby's services.
What Are The Rumors?
A move does appear to be in the cards; since Mudryk's signing fell apart, Arsenal was immediately linked to Diaby as a backup. That is, if Arsenal can match Leverkusen's asking price, thanks to Chelsea dropping €70 million on Mudryk just last week. In the world of transfers, high sales lead to higher sales for other players, and Diaby is both more experienced and plays on the more valuable right side of attack.
This is probably the biggest hurdle for Arsenal, a rich club that is not mega-wealthy like Chelsea. Or Manchester City. Or Diaby's other suitor in January, Newcastle United. The freshly rich Magpies, loaded up with Saudi Arabian money, could easily meet the same price tag (or something noticeably higher) that Chelsea dropped for Mudryk without it affecting the club's actual budget. While Newcastle is likely not a title contender even with Diaby, the club is competing for top four in the Premier League right now, so it has similar motivations as Arsenal for making a move in the winter window, rather than waiting until the summer.
Are These Rumors Bullshit?
Given Arsenal's previous interest in Mudryk, I would tend to believe that Diaby is squarely in the Gunners' radar. However, is €75 million too much for a player that doesn't quite fit an immediate need? Arsenal has Bukayo Saka as its current right winger, and Gabriel Martinelli over on the left.
Sure, the current Premier League leaders could use attacking depth, given that Gabriel Jesus will be out for at least another month, if not more, but signing a player who would either be behind two promising young stars or, perhaps worse, push those stars to the bench more often seems questionable. Also, Arsenal might be wary of spending so much money on a Francophone winger after the way that Nicolas Pépé adapted after his €80 million move to the Premier League. (That is to say, he didn't.)
As for Newcastle, who knows? The club has the money to do whatever it wants, so I'm not even going to try to predict what it will or won't do.
What Does He Do?
Diaby's prime asset on the wing is his technique at full speed. The man is extremely fast with and without the ball, which puts pressure on opposing defenses whenever he's in the final third. When he does have the ball, he can both run past defenders and dribble around them, and that incisiveness allows him to create chances at a high clip:
Diaby has an eye for goal, and though he doesn't shoot as much as a player of his talent normally does (he only averages around two shots per game, in the 33rd percentile for wingers), he has an accurate left foot that allows him to rack up a goal every three games or so. Take this stunner of a goal from October, in which he picked up the ball just past midfield, dribbled casually to around 25 yards, then lasered the ball into the far top corner of the goal:
When he's not looking for his own goals, Diaby is also a creator, partly because he's always in dangerous positions: He receives seven progressive passes per game, good for the top 20 percent, and he turns those into assists at a high clip. He's the kind of winger who can serve as an engine for an attack, as long as he has the proper delivery out wide to the right.
What Doesn't He Do?
Diaby is a very small player, measuring at only 5-foot-7, if one is being generous. This means that he can be muscled off the ball much easier than bigger players, so he has to rely on his dribbling technique to open up space with the ball at his feet. This also makes him a a non-factor on set pieces, though he can send those free kicks and corners in, and probably should, given how little he will do on balls in the air.
He's also not the greatest passer when it comes to possession. Diaby only completes 74 percent of his passes, which is partly due to his attempts to notch that final ball, but also speaks to his lack of control on the wing. If a team plays a more possession-based style, it would diminish some of his best qualities while putting him in uncomfortable positions making passes to the middle of the field.
Finally, a club should not sign Diaby to provide any kind of defensive contribution. Thanks to his attacking mindset and small frame, he ranks near the bottom in every notable defensive statistic. That's generally fine for a winger, but some teams play defense from the front, and those teams would have to teach Diaby how to press properly and how to use his pace to offset his strength shortcomings.
How Does He Fit Into A Top Team?
There is a simple reality in soccer: Left-footed right wingers are inherently more valuable than their opposite cohort on the left side of attack. Lefties are rarer, and so Diaby would find it easier to fit into the right wing position than if he were born a righty. Soccer is wild like that, particularly since the rise in popularity of inverted wingers. His best position would be on that wing in a standard 4-3-3 formation, where his defensive deficiencies matter less and his proximity to the opposing goal would make his eye for the killer pass or the scorching shot more important.
Diaby could also, of course, still play on the left wing as a lefty; plenty of players do it, and he's skilled enough to dribble inside where he could use his powerful left foot for cross-goal shots or cutbacks. It wouldn't be as valuable as playing on the right, but no one would say he's bad on the left.
Most interestingly, though, Diaby could play centrally, whether as a pacey striker in a two-striker formation, or a center forward in a 4-2-3-1 set-up, behind a bigger target. He's skilled enough and direct enough to counter-attack down the center of the park, and his assists numbers would only go up, particularly if he has freedom to drift out wide still.
Who Would Hate This Move?
Expensive transfers tend to shake things up, be it the dressing room, the roster hierarchy, the manager's position, the fans' outlook, and the domestic and international landscape. With that it mind, this section tries to determine who stands to lose from the potential transfer.
If Arsenal were to buy Diaby, then the Gunners would have a logjam at the winger slots. More specifically, the aforementioned Saka and Martinelli would face competition from the Frenchman for two slots. It's possible that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta could deploy all three, perhaps with Martinelli in the striker role. This would be a small frontline with few aerial threats, and it would also bench another promising youngster in Eddie Nketiah, who just scored a brace in a thrilling 3-2 win over Manchester United. There's no easy fit for Diaby at Arsenal, so it goes back to buying him to be a depth option, which would likely not sit well with him as he tries to push for a regular slot on the French national team.
Elsewhere, even if Leverkusen earns a huge fee for Diaby's signature, the German side will still have to hate this move. This is the type of move that a club in the second or third tier of one of the less wealthy leagues in Europe has to make when the Premier League comes knocking, but that doesn't make it any smaller of a sting when a promising young star is moved. Leverkusen can at least comfort itself with the knowledge that it can turn that €75 million into plugged holes elsewhere on its lineup, though if the move happens in January, those reinforcements will likely wait until the summer.
Important signings are bound to be controversial, so here we include a representative example at each end of the spectrum of sentiments.
Where Does He Rank On The Defector Boom/Bust Scale?
As the January transfer window inches towards its deadline day on the Jan. 31, moves like Diaby's transfer to Arsenal, or to Newcastle, or wherever else, become more urgent. This is the last chance for teams to bring in support in order to achieve their goals, and for both of those Premier League sides, the next few months could be history-making and course-changing.
Is Diaby the type of player that can make the difference for a top side reaching for glory? He's definitely expensive, probably the most expensive player left on the market for January, but he provides a very specific value for clubs in need of attackers. He can score, he can create, and he can open up the center of the park for his midfielders.
Sure, he's not perfect, and €75 million is a lot for a player who is as singularly focused as he is at a position of luxury for a club like Arsenal. But Diaby is exactly the type of player that Premier League winners have on their rosters, and so it'll be up to the Gunners to decide whether they think they can win without him, or whether they need to bite the bullet and purchase a player who could be a key fixture in its first real title charge since the mid 2000s. For these reasons, Moussa Diaby grades at a 63.7 on the Defector Boom/Bust Scale.