Moussa Diaby is the £43 million recruit with rapid pace who is already making a quick impression at Aston Villa.
With the modern game so in thrall to speed, risk and freedom of expression, Diaby is proving a potent weapon in Unai Emery’s Villa revolution, ahead of their Europa Conference League opener in Warsaw on Thursday night.
Emery has signed the France international as he can play in many attacking positions - primarily as a No 10 or a No 7 - but what always remains consistent is his ability to unsettle defenders.
Diaby is direct, exciting and deadly in front of goal, with two goals and two assists from his five Premier League appearances.
His move to Villa from Bayer Leverkusen in July already appears shrewd business, and clear evidence of the pulling power of both Emery and the club’s president of football operations Monchi.
There was the threat of rival interest from Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr in the ambitious Saudi Pro League, who would have paid him a far bigger salary, so Emery had to perform a perfect sales pitch.
In those talks over Zoom, he outlined exactly where Diaby would play and the difference he could make to the team.
It is understood that Emery showed Diaby some clips of Villa’s games from last season, detailing the areas where he could boost their attacking power if he was to sign.
How Villa beat European heavyweights to Emery’s No 1 target
There was already a relationship between them, when Emery was Paris St-Germain’s manager with Diaby in the club’s academy.
Now Diaby is thriving on the pressure of being Villa’s record signing and, for Emery, there is no limit to what he can achieve.
Diaby only turned 24 in July and his age is actually significant in explaining how Villa succeeded in signing him.
While many other bigger European clubs have frequently monitored him in recent years, he is perhaps harshly viewed as being a little too old to justify such a lavish transfer fee.
That left Villa with a gap in the market and less competition, which they ruthlessly exploited with their move in July.
He was Emery’s No 1 target, and regarded as a signing for the short- and medium-term with his best years still ahead of him.
Pace and athleticism is vital in Emery’s forward players and Diaby once recorded a speed of 35.95kph in a game against Fortuna Dusseldorf.
European experience was also regarded as a vital asset: Diaby has played in both the Champions League and Europa League for Bayer Leverkusen, so the prospect of three games in a week with minimal recovery will not faze him.
‘I watched him train and thought: wow’
His four years with Leverkusen were very memorable. When he first signed in 2019 from PSG, he was quiet and introverted. Diaby grew up in a very poor part of the 19th arrondissement of Paris and it took him time to adapt to a different league and culture in Germany.
Yet when he became a father at 20 it felt like a turning point in both his career and life. In the 2021-22 season his numbers were excellent, with 17 goals and 14 assists.
Diaby could have left last year, with Villa making initial inquiries, but his commitment to Leverkusen was high. Last year he attended a post-season tour of Mexico with the men’s and women’s teams.
In November, during the World Cup, Diaby travelled with Leverkusen for a friendly in St Louis after he was left out of France’s squad.
During those tours he became renowned for always playing Uno, the card game, with team-mate Jeremie Frimpong.
On the pitch, it was soon becoming clear that this summer his future lay elsewhere.
“He’s very sharp, good on the ball and has an eye for goal. He’s also obviously very fast so I think he’s perfect for the Premier League.
“I sent him a message when he came over saying ‘do your thing and go for it’. Hopefully he can continue how he’s performing already.”