Diangana: ‘I Like to Draw Faces … Make Afro Beat, Hip-Hop’
‘I’ve always been free,” Grady Diangana says. “When you’re happy and you’re enjoying something, good things will happen to you. You know, I didn’t even know football was a profession. You see the stars on TV and they’re just playing football. You don’t know it’s a job. I just played because I enjoyed it. I had the ambition to be on the screen.”
There is a youthful innocence to Diangana, a creative soul who makes the most of his spare time by drawing portraits and making music. The West Ham winger remembers being blown away by Eden Hazard’s quality after being named on the bench for a game against Chelsea in April 2018 and he says he felt no pressure after joining West Bromwich Albion on loan in the summer. Diangana has thrived at the Hawthorns and the move offered him a chance to play the game he has loved since he was a kid. “That’s all I remember about my childhood. Playing football.”
The 21-year-old is quiet and he admits he has grown up since going out on loan. He knows he will have to be disciplined to achieve his ambition of playing for England. “That’s why you have to learn the other side to the game, the duties of the job. When you’re young you just want to enjoy it. I was about 16 when I realized those responsibilities. And it’s a habit now. Whatever I have to do for the team I’ll do.”
West Brom, who are top of the Championship before visiting Preston North End on Monday, love what Diangana is doing. He has scored four goals for Slaven Bilic’s side and he sparkled during the 4-1 win against Bristol City on Wednesday, setting up the opening goal for Kieran Gibbs with a sublime backheel.
Diangana’s form is not a surprise. He scored twice when Manuel Pellegrini gave him his West Ham debut in an 8-0 victory against Macclesfield in the Carabao Cup last season and his early performances were bold and imaginative. He has a lovely left foot and an eye for a pass.
Yet sustaining that promise was hard. Diangana rarely played after Christmas and he found his path into Pellegrini’s side blocked by expensive internationals. “In preseason I had the ambition to get into the starting XI at West Ham,” Diangana says. “I did my best. Then I had a chat with the manager to decide how I could develop. We came to an understanding that a loan would be better for me.”
West Ham are on a dreadful run and Diangana could be recalled in January. Yet that might not be the best option. He is gaining valuable experience at West Brom, who would like to sign him permanently next summer and he has formed a bond with Bilic, describing the former West Ham manager as a great person.
“As soon as I stepped in I felt comfortable. Everyone’s so happy. Everyone’s bantering with each other. I’m a humble character. As soon as I walked through the door the players were just so nice to me. I’m doing well. If the manager called me back I’d be happy to do so but he said I can get 40 games under my belt and I’m happy to do that as well.”
This is the first time Diangana, who was in the England Under-21 squad last month, has lived on his own. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his family moved to England when he was four. They lived in Bromley-by-Bow in east London before moving to Greenwich and Diangana, who has three brothers and one sister, was in the family home before joining West Brom. “The training ground was near. And I could get my mum’s cooking.”
Diangana misses his mum’s African dishes and wants her to teach him how to make them over FaceTime. “The cooking’s a challenge,” he says. “I have an app that delivers recipes to you.” What if the app breaks down? “YouTube is there. Google is there.” And if the wifi goes down? “I’ll be straight on the phone to my mum.”
Not that Diangana is suffering from homesickness. Although he is grateful to his parents for making sure he went to bed on time and ate properly when he was a teenager, he likes an adventure. He spoke only French when he moved to England but he quickly picked up English in school. He can understand Lingala, the Congolese language, and a recent trip to Barcelona has convinced him to learn Spanish.
Diangana, whose girlfriend is studying law in Switzerland, is always looking for the next experience. He is reading a book about geopolitics and his face lights up while discussing his artistic side.
“I like to draw faces. I’ll have a picture there, one of my dad for example. It helps me relax. It gives me distance from thought processes. You’re zoned out and in your own element. There’s a sense of achievement when you finish. The music is different. You’re creating from your mind. To be able to put it to sound is a nice feeling. I make Afro beat, hip-hop. I want to learn how to play the piano. I like to be creative.”