Frazer Robertson thought he was seeing things. 

It was day one of a new job with the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana having left home in Scotland and travelled halfway across the globe. Walking down to take in a session he spotted a player also watching on and wearing, much to his surprise, a Rangers shirt. Little did either party know that said individual, a 12-year-old Mohamed Diomande sitting out training through illness, was ushering in his own future.

“The reason I remember meeting Dio for the first time so clearly is that he was wearing a Rangers top - it stood out straight away,” Robertson tells the Rangers Review from Belgium, where he’s now first-team coach at Standard Liege.

“That’s why it stuck in my head. I’d come all the way to Ghana and on my first day, one of the first things I see is a boy wearing a Rangers top!

“I told a couple of my friends after Dio joined Rangers last month, ‘This will sound like a Holywood story but that boy used to wear Rangers tops regularly around the academy’.

Nearly a decade on from that first meeting in 2013 Diomande is a Rangers player, joining on loan initially this January before a permanent transfer from FC Nordsjælland is completed in the summer. Having opened the scoring away at St Johnstone last Sunday and during yesterday’s emphatic 5-0 win over Hearts at Ibrox, the 22-year-old is making the notion of settling in appear an abstract concept. 

Perhaps, to throw in a little Holywood, it’s because, in one sense, Diomande is not pulling on a Rangers shirt for the first time. Far from it.

The Rangers Review caught up with Joe Mulberry, the scout who first spotted an 11-year-old Doimande, Gareth Henderby, Technical Director of Right to Dream and Head of Academy at FC Nordsjaelland and Robertson, who coached Diomande for six years as a teenager. To discover more about a talented player with a unique journey.

So, how does a boy born in Cote d'Ivoire come to wear Rangers shirts around the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana? It all centres around the man responsible for an initial move across the border - Joe Mulberry. His best man brought several Rangers shirts to Africa, leading Mulberry to hand a couple to Diomande.

Mulberry, who Diomande namechecked during his first RangersTV interview, has worked with Right to Dream for over two decades and it was during a first scouting trip to Attecoube in Cote d'Ivoire that the Englishman spotted a tall, technical midfielder with plenty of potential.

“Dio was extremely technically gifted, he solved situations technically that others couldn't,” Mulberyy tells the Rangers Review reflecting on that first sighting, one of the best days of his professional career. Diomande would subsequently move to Ghana at the age of 11 to join the Right to Dream academy.

“He was creative, a good passer and very competitive in nature. I remember that on the day his team were playing excellent football and he was central to that.”

Right to Dream was founded in 1999 by Tom Vernon. The football academy describes itself as: “A community of dreamers dedicated to expanding people’s understanding of excellence through football.”

Vernon started the academy in his home with then girlfriend and now wife Helen. It has since expanded to Ivory Coast, Egypt, the USA and Denmark where it owns FC Nordsjælland. Diomande’s 15-year-old brother, also a midfielder, is part of the Right to Dream academy at present.

“We make holistic assessments of 40,000 kids in West Africa each year from an academic and football perspective,” Mulberry adds. 

“We work closely with a huge network of community teams run by passionate members of the community that provide great football education and a chance to dream big.”

Fellow graduates include West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus and Brighton’s Simon Adringa. 

One man who’s been around since the start of the journey is Gareth Henderby - Right to Dream’s Technical Director and Head of Academy at FC Nordsjælland.

“Tom Vernon became an African scout for Man United and I met him 24 years ago in Ghana. We started to see big potential of talent, especially at the under 11 and 12 age groups,” he tells the Rangers Review.

“The Right to Dream Academy started with an under-12 team in Ghana and grew from strength to strength with academies all around the world now in place.

“At the time Dio joined I was in Ghana as the Technical Director. It was clear from a young age that he had real talent. Dio was quite tall and gangly with a top first touch. A smooth player on the ball who liked to link things and just play football.

“Dio has always had huge potential and was a key player in his age group. There was never any doubt when he turned 18 we’d take him to Denmark to play with FC Nordsjælland and join the first team.

“He suffered a bad injury in his first season when he broke his ankle which derailed progress. After that, Dio bounced back strongly and had two really good seasons at the top end of Danish football, performing consistently while also playing in Europe.”

“The boys come to Right to Dream on an academic scholarship as a residential academy - they come in for terms and then get to go home for three to four weeks,” Robertson adds.

“As they get older they start to travel a lot. I’ve been fortunate to travel with groups, including Dio, all over the world. Japan, Europe, the UK, to play games and tournaments. Dio was a big part of that and his exposure to European football and world football at a young age has been a big part of his development.

“He was always a younger one in the group playing with the year above because of his talent. I remember one of the coaches saying ‘Wait till you see Diomande’ when I first arrived. I don’t like saying young players will definitely make it because it’s risky but you had a strong belief Dio would be able to play in Europe from an early age.

“Dio had a strong character moving away to a different country from his family at a young age to come to the academy in Ghana. He’s made a lot of sacrifices and often played up an age group given his talent. Now, he’s experiencing rewards for hard work and sacrifice.”

Speaking following a 3-0 win over St Johnstone last weekend Clement explained that Diomande was capable of playing as a No.6, 8 or 10, saying: “Dio can play three positions in midfield without a problem.”

As the Rangers Review discussed at length when scouting Diomande, the 22-year-old is a technician who ticks most requirements across three midfield positions. With the physical capacity and grit to break up play equalling a poise in possession and ball manipulation to slice through pressure. 

“For me, that’s a really good way to describe it,” Robertson continues when a version of that point is made. Having coached him from the age of 12 until he moved to Denmark at 18, few know Diomande’s game better.

“Even as a young player Dio could play anywhere in the midfield and do both types of roles as a midfielder. If you wanted him to be a defensive midfielder and break the game up he’d do that no problem. For a young player, he enjoyed the physical confrontation and battle.

“Equally he’s a very creative player with a very high technical level, excellent ball manipulation and feel for the ball. Dio’s a natural ball-playing footballer who can do that other side of the game. I laugh at times because when he was younger, and he’ll show this, he has that real football aggression in his game.

“He was a captain at times when he was in the dressing room in Denmark and you don’t become that unless you have the correct personality on and off the pitch. 

“Dio won’t be intimidated by the physical side of the game in Scotland - the game is physical wherever you play. He's happy to go and compete, capable of going against someone from a football point of view with the ball or physically and compete in all areas.”

“Dio’s a really rounded midfielder,” Mulberry adds.

“He can play multiple positions across a variety of tactical approaches. I feel he is best as an advanced No.8 or 10, in the top line of midfield. Where he brings his creativity, good passing and interplay as well as late runs into the box."

“He’s not always been a goalscorer but the role he has been given at Rangers has allowed him to be a little more free in the attacking areas and final third. That’s something Dio can relish to get more goals,” Henderby continues.

“He does like to hover around the edge of the box and pick things up, not only to score but create too.”

The midfielder’s two goals from two starts in the league so far have demonstrated the range of qualities referenced. 

The Ivorian's first goal on a surface in Perth where the ball was designed to bobble rather than roll saw a trap of possession with one foot and quick snapshot with the other after running off the shoulder of Dan Phillips deep in midfield.

The second, on a pitch that didn’t require good old-fashioned clutching of the ball, was a side-footed strike on his other side. This time drifting into receive a pass from fellow January signing Oscar Cortes, Diomande dropped one shoulder and shifted the other before wrapping a finish across Zander Clark and into the far corner.

“Diomande’s key strength is that technically, he’s so good. If he keeps focused he can go through a whole game without giving the ball away,” Henderby adds.

“He’s a real link player from back to front, always available for his team picking up good positions. Dio is always aware of what is around him and likes to play forward - a big part of his game is accessing the final third. 

“While quiet on the pitch Dio’s tenacious and will pick up the odd booking - he’s a player that leads by example.”

“When I heard they were interested, I told my agent you need to make it happen.”

Diomande’s comments in his first interview RangersTV were not exclusive to one side of the transfer. Once it became clear that this deal could be completed, Rangers moved fast to beat the competition for a signature.

As explained in-depth last month, the appointment of Nils Koppen represented a change in the recruitment focus at Ibrox. Their Chairman John Bennett was at pains to point out during the most recent AGM that it was an area of the club, while not without sporadic wins, requiring radical restructuring. The move to a football board and Head of Recruitment model with that in mind, instead of a continuation of the Sporting Director role Ross Wilson vacated last April, saw Bennet and CEO James Bisgrove turn to PSV’s Nils Koppen.

Koppen officially started his new job in early January but played an influential role in presenting and securing Fabio Silva’s loan deal to the club from Wolves in late December. 

Similarly, sources close to Diomande’s transfer described Koppen’s involvement as instrumental in driving a transfer that had Clement’s full support and was subsequently signed off by the football board. Koppen had been aware of Diomande from his spell at PSV. He was also a player that the Ibrox club had been tracking for some time, ticking boxes across a variety of scouting categories. 

A big appeal in the 38-year-old’s appointment at Ibrox was his knowledge of markets with value that the Ibrox club had previously failed to access. Diomande, while representing a fair investment for Rangers, is seen as someone who can return a healthy investment down the line and, most importantly, realise his huge potential while in Glasgow.

While a significant outlay -  Diomande will cost Rangers around £4.5million - this deal was viewed as an opportunity too good to pass up in the January window.

The move represents a delicate balance that Rangers needed to strike in the January window. Finding a player who possesses long-term value as a financial asset but also capable of hitting the ground running straight away.

“It’s not just the goals, it’s also the way he’s playing,” Clement said when asked by the Rangers Review yesterday about Diomande’s start in Glasgow.

“The way he’s defending, the way he’s working for the team and making choices with the ball. It’s not easy coming into a team in January when a part of the story is already written and you’re starting from zero. 

“We scouted him a lot and we’ve known about him for several years. We knew it was a player who would suit how we want to play football. Our football suits him also so that has made it easier for him coming into the squad. 

“He can use his qualities and it’s the same with Oscar [Cortes] and Fabio [Silva]. You can see they’re enjoying it and they’re growing as young players. It’s a huge thing. We got three young players in the winter market and they have so much potential to grow.”

“The big thing is his personality on the pitch - he’s a quiet boy until you get to know him, then you see he’s got a great sense of humour,” Robertson concludes reflecting on years of coaching Diomande as a teenager.

“He’s a competitor and winner. It’s been a massive positive to play first-team football in Denmark at 18, even though he might be deemed young at 22 he’s not in terms of first-team experience.

“How he’s developed, that’s down to him. Everyone talks about academies and coaches but it’s the players who make it - as coaches we facilitate. It’s up to players to take opportunities and Diomande has done that.”

“As a person, he is a really good kid - he has time for a lot of people every day. He’s social and is an honest person, his religion means a lot to him and he comes from a good family,” adds Henderby.

“Dio has the fundamental talent to play at a higher level but he won't get ahead of himself. He was a fan favourite at FC Nordsjælland for his desire to win and impact matches - I'm sure that will be the same at Rangers,” concludes Mulberry.

With two league goals in two league starts Diomande is making his mark very quickly.

Pointing to the badge after each goal you wonder how many were celebrated in that same kit during endless games in Ghana. Diomande has plenty of practice in Rangers colours - but now it's for real.

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