When Manchester United travel to the Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo, Italy tonight to face Atalanta, there is very little chance that Amad Diallo will feature. The 19-year-old winger moved to Old Trafford from the Serie A club on deadline day of 2020, but is yet to feature regularly for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
This is partly by design. Aged 18 when he moved to Manchester, Amad Diallo was never intended to be an immediate first team regular. The Ivory Coast international arrived with just five games of senior football under his belt for Atalanta, having scored one goal. Unlike the Donny van de Beek signing that same summer, this was a player clearly bought with the long-term future in mind rather than his possible immediate impact.
The communication breakdown came in how the Amad move was presented to fans and media. Usually when Manchester United sign a youth player, it is a low-key affair. No pianos are wheeled out, Stormzy is kept off the premises and the whole circus is replaced by an Instagram picture of the signee putting pen to paper and little more. While Amad Diallo was not given the full Alexis Sanchez treatment, his signing was treated like a major acquisition. The reported £37 million fee helped this feel like a major deal, and its placement on deadline day only increased the excitement.
In truth, Diallo’s signing being elevated in this way was a smokescreen. The player would not join up with the Red Devils until January, instead remaining at Atalanta for a spell. But a fallow summer meant a deadline day announcement was a convenient way for the United hierarchy to deflect criticism. While Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles had joined, there was annoyance among fans at United’s failure to capture a winger. Amad was one of two brought in at the last moment, quieting the discontent just long enough to get deadline day out of the way. Fellow teenager Facundo Pellistri also received the full first team signing treatment, before being quietly dispatched to Alaves on loan.
Upon joining up with United in January of this year, Diallo was moved cautiously. This was understandable, as he had only played twice for Atalanta during the first half of the season. The initial fervour had died down, as fans began to understand he was one for the future rather than a like-for-like alternative to top target (and now-United player) Jadon Sancho. But there was still excitement to see the starlet in action, with the fires being stoked further when the newcomer netted an under-23s brace against Liverpool at the end of the month.
After being an unused substitute for a February FA Cup tie against West Ham United, Diallo took his United bow in the Europa League when he came on for Mason Greenwood in a 4-0 win over Real Sociedad. It was his first goal in the competition though that put the young Ivorian on the map. A Javier Hernandez-esque backwards header in the round-of-16 first leg against AC Milan felt like the advent of a new Manchester United hero.
It did not quite pan out that way, with Diallo making only sporadic substitute appearances. His most eye-catching contribution was an assist for Mason Greenwood against Leicester City, the first time a teenager had assisted another in the Premier League for 15 years. This season was supposed to be spent on loan, with Feyenoord lined-up to take Amad for the season. However, the deal fell through on deadline day due to an injury. One year after his much-ballyhooed signing, Diallo was on the treatment table.
With United’s bevy of attackers blocking his way, it’s difficult to imagine he will see much football this season. However he’s still only 19, with hopes still high and much football still ahead of him. He is unlikely to be picked today against his former club, but if Amad Diallo becomes the player he’s predicted to be, United and Atalanta will be inextricably linked by his transfer.