By Dylan Bettencourt
At the age of just 10 years old, Iliman Ndiaye made headlines as the “future Zinedine Zidane” in a Senegalese newspaper.
Ndiaye as a youngster dreamed of a path towards the Fifa World Cup.
It began when he was scouted by Paris Saint-Germain.
But it was not PSG he ended up with; the youngster worked with French giants Marseille.
Some newspapers in Senegal, the birthplace of Ndiaye’s father, even dubbed him the next Lionel Messi.
While he has not quite reached the heights of those expectations, Ndiaye will line up against England in the quarter-final, set for Sunday.
The 22-year-old’s path to Qatar has been somewhat unexpected – playing in the football cages of London to the non-leagues of England before settling down with Sheffield United in England’s second division.
Jack Lester worked with Ndiaye in the non-leagues of England before moving with him to Sheffield United, where Lester is the head of player development.
“He’s a diamond. Very grounded, down to earth. Everyone loves Ili. And he’s different. So balanced, so poised. Some of the stuff he does in training we watch back in the analysis room after, laughing. He just makes you smile.
“There’s so much connection between his feet and his brain that he can take two or three touches, and change direction, in a couple of strides,” Lester said, The Times reported.
Ndiaye was born to a French mother and spent his younger years in Senegal before moving to London with his family.
The midfielder made his international debut in June this year and impressed by earning an assist against Qatar in this year’s World Cup.
Ndiaye’s performance earned him a place in the starting lineup against Ecuador, where he impressed yet again as the Lions of Teranga advanced.
The matchup against England has caused a conundrum for his Sheffield United manager, Paul Heckingbottom.
“It’s gonna be a strange one for me — watching him, proud, wanting him to perform well, but wanting the other team to win,” Heckingbottom said.
Pictured above: Iliman Ndiaye
Image source: @YorkshirePost