Papa's the Daddy; Diop Is Now Fully Focused at Fulham Thanks to His Pal Camara

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Byline: STUART JAMES

HENRI CAMARA knows a good player when he sees one. The Senegal international, who this week joined Southampton from Celtic, told Papa Bouba Diop in the summer that the Premiership was perfect for his domineering style of play.

Fulham and their manager Chris Coleman should be thankful that the midfielder, who turned 27 last week, took his international team-mate's advice. "Henri Camara is my best friend, we talk all the time," said Diop.

"He said to me, 'You must come to England. I know what you are like, I know how you play, come to the Premiership - you will come out of your shell and explode'."

Diop has certainly illuminated Craven Cottage since joining from Lens in July, not least with his spectacular shooting. But there is much more to his game than bludgeoning 30-yard rockets past Chelsea's Petr Cech and Manchester United's Roy Carroll.

For a big man - he is 6ft 4in and almost 16 stone - Diop is at ease with the ball at his feet. Indeed there can be few holding midfielders in the Premiership who are so incisive with their passing. "I like free-flowing football and I like to receive the ball, pass it quickly and to get it back - I like to be involved as much as possible," said Diop. "You have to be confident and comfortable on the ball to be able do that."

Throw five league goals into the equation as well, including a pair ofmatch-winning headers against West Brom and Birmingham last month, and it is easy to see why Diop has emerged as Fulham's most influential player - not only in January, for which he has become the Evening Standard's Footballer of the Month, but all season. His adaption to English football has been remarkably smooth.

"When I first started playing for Fulham it's a new environment, new country, new team, I was new to the whole league so it was more about trying to feel my way around the first few games," said Diop. "But once I got through that and I felt comfortable with my game it allowed me a great deal more licence to try and progress and make my role more definitive within the team."

Tomorrow, Diop comes face to face with an opponent at Anfield whose role could not be more clearly defined - Steven Gerrard. …