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Two of Papa Bouba Diop’s former team-mates have talked about their memories of the Senegal star who died on Sunday, aged just 42.

Former DR Congo captain Gabriel Zakuani was at Fulham at the same time as Bouba Diop and once let him move into his house.

Salif Diao played with Bouba Diop for Senegal and said: “Whenever we think about him it will be that angel face and that smile.”

Like many others paying tribute to Bouba Diop both men described him as a gentle giant.

“He was that powerhouse – when we [the Senegal squad] sent someone to the opposition dressing room we would always send him because he was the biggest in the team,” Diao recalled.

“He would always try and have that angry face but it was funny because he couldn’t do an angry face – so we would be behind him laughing because he was a powerhouse but with a babyface.


“When I heard the news my heart just felt shredded he lived with bravery and humility and that’s what we will remember.”

Diao was part of the team for one of Bouba Diopi’s career highlights when he scored the winning goal against France in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup.

“Just a fantastic moment a legendary moment and I can still see his smile and baby face – a real gentle giant and he was special,” the former Liverpool player added.

“That’s what makes that group so special – every single individual had something that we were adding into the group. For the battle for getting ready to go onto the field he was the perfect guy who was really representing us.

“He was just so strong so powerful – the symbols of Senegal are the Baobab tree and the lion – and so he was a perfect symbol for our team as he had the heart of a lion and the strength of the Baobab tree.


“With him in the team we weren’t scared of anyone. He made a whole nation happy and proud.”

Zakuani got to know Bouba Diop while the two were at Fulham together.

“When I went there he looked after me like a younger brother – showing me the ropes so it is sad to hear of his passing.” Zakuani said.

“On the pitch you think “a beast” just an animal smashing everything that’s moving but as a person he had nothing bad about him he was just a proper nice person.

“I have never seen anyone have a bad word to say about him he was just the nicest, kindest soul.”


One of Zakuani’s abiding memories was offering to lend Bouba Diop his house while he went on holiday.

“He was having his apartment refurbished and he asked if I could use one of my bedrooms – I was going on holiday at the time so I gave him the keys to my house and said ‘do whatever you want’,” Zakuani recalled with a laugh.

“I come back from holiday a week later and he’d had the house decorated to his liking – he had his family photos everywhere and he was in my bedroom – he just saw that as normal.

“Now I look at it that he was that comfortable with me. At the time I was thinking how do I tell this 6ft 5 giant to take his stuff down and get out of my bedroom.”



Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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