Habib Diallo's goals kept FC Metz in Ligue 1 Uber Eats last season, and the Senegal international who first flourished in the same academy as Sadio Mané and Ismaïla Sarr will only get better.
ligue1.com looks at rise and rise of the Metz man, from Dakar to the Lorraine region via Brittany.
1) In Mané's Generation Foot-steps
Born in Thies, 70 kilometres (43.4 miles) to the east of the Senegalese capital, Diallo joined the Generation Foot academy in Dakar where Mané and Sarr both played before moving to Metz themselves. Diallo's life might have taken a very different path, however, had his father put his foot down when the academy's recruiters came for his son as he wanted the young Habib to pursue his studies. "It was one of the bosses of Generation Foot who called me and convinced me to give them my son as he would be able to do both there," Diallo Sr. explained.
WATCH: Diallo doubles up in big Metz win against Monaco
2) Bienvenue en Lorraine
It was some two years after Mané and three before Sarr that Diallo arrived at Metz in November 2013 at the age of 18. If he reminded those at the club of another Generation Foot alumnus, Diafra Sakho, who was the club's first-choice centre forward at the time, the biting Lorraine winter was very unfamiliar to Diallo. "It's true those first few weeks were difficult," Diallo explained. "But little by little, I acclimatised."
3) Brest is best
He started to warm up when a first-team debut arrived in the opening game of the 2015-16 Ligue 2 season, and he would finish his maiden senior campaign in France with nine goals in 17 appearances. His strikes all came in a ten-match rush to help the club to promotion, and he then made his top-flight debut in the following season. A single goal game from 19 games, however, and it was not until an 18-month loan spell at Stade Brestois 29 — then in Ligue 2 — that Diallo finally began to feel at home on the pitch in France. "Going on loan to Brest did me good," he explained. "I had hardly played in Ligue 1. When you're young and you're not playing at a club, it's better to leave in order to progress."
WATCH: Diallo scores one & tees one up as Metz see off Saint-Étienne
4) Stupid question, smart answer
"What type of striker are you?" Diallo was once asked. "One who scores goals," came the answer, almost as quickly as he snaffles up a chance in the opposition penalty area. His nine goals in 33 Ligue 2 appearances had Brest in promotion contention; the following season, he smashed 26 in 37 to send Metz back into the top flight after a one-season absence.
Despite his personal best tally, he missed out on the league's top scorer prize by a single strike. The winner? Gaëtan Charbonnier, the man he had played alongside for Brest the previous season.
His Brittany football schooling had done him good though. "He's an atypical player. At the time, he struggled to express his qualities consistently," explained Diallo's former Metz teammate Franck Signorino. "He hardened up during his time in Brest. He's a good forward, holds up the ball well, and he's effective with his head."
5) 'You know how much I love him'
Diallo had one goal in 20 Ligue 1 Uber Eats performances. In 2019-20, only Kylian Mbappé, Wissam ben Yedder, Moussa Dembélé, Neymar and Victor Osimhen — a 'Who's Who?' of the French top-flights star scorers, and all playing for clubs in the top half of the table — got more goals than the Metz forward, whose side finished 15th. He had claimed three goals in his opening 180 minutes of hte campaign, and ended with 12 in 26 games, in many of which he wore the captain's armband.
"He's a guy with every quality going. You know how much I love him. I'm surprised he hasn't found a club matching his stature," said Metz coach Vincent Hognon, who is resigned to losing his star forward in the current transfer window following that eye-catching 2019-20 goal-haul. "I see his quality in his movement, the way he keeps the ball, in a huge amount of things."