Here at Talking Bull we are continuing to build up our archive detailing the careers of former Hereford heroes. This time we cast our eye over a player who will no doubt be rooting for Watford in the FA Cup Final against Manchester City at Wembley tomorrow.
Down the years Hereford have frequently utilised the loan system to great effect, with former manager Graham Turner a strong advocate for its use, given the positive impact the signings often generated. Indeed, if a player was then persuaded to join the Bulls, the club often benefitted long term. Toumani Diagouraga epitomised this philosophy superbly as Hereford won promotion to League One with the new “Patrick Vieira” a catalyst for the Bulls in midfield.
Toumani (born 10 June 1987) was born in Paris and was spotted by a Watford scout as a schoolboy before joining the Hornets’ Academy in December 2003. His driving, competitive performances led to a professional contract just 11 months later as he starred in Watford’s run to the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup. Chelsea immediately became linked with the youngster, but to counter this Watford gave him first team opportunities in the Championship with games against Preston and Wolves at the start of the 2005/6 season.
Following Watford’s promotion to the Premier League, opportunities for the 18-year-old were limited and so he joined first Swindon and then Rotherham United in loan spells, prior to his move to Edgar Street in August 2007.
Initially on a short-term loan deal, Diagouraga, or “Dave” as he became nicknamed, quickly became a fans favourite. He scored his first senior goal in the Bulls 4-2 win over Bradford City on 22 September 2007, and followed this up with another as Hereford secured a 1-1 draw at Chester City three weeks later.
The Bulls’ boss Graham Turner was quick to recognise the stability Toumani brought to the side as an enforcer and extended the players loan deal until the end of the season. His acquisition was arguably the most important aspect of the Bulls promotion push that year, as Diagouraga chalked up 50 appearances, and was instrumental in both breaking up opposition attacks and maintaining possession when it really mattered.
Hereford had captured the mercurial Lionel Ainsworth alongside Toumani from Watford, plus loan strikers Sherjill MacDonald and Gary Hooper to fire the Bulls up the Football League, but I suspect that without the presence of Diagouraga in centre-field, United would not have been so effective.
Hereford thus gained automatic promotion to League One by finishing third in a dramatic 2007/8 campaign, culminating in the on-pitch celebrations at Griffin Park, following the win that guaranteed the Bulls would be playing in the third tier of English football for the first time in 30 years. This success provided a vital factor in Diagouraga’s decision to stay at Edgar Street, signing a three-year contract in July 2008.
Hereford struggled at the higher level, but Diagouraga maintained a degree of consistency many around him were unable to match. He scored twice during the campaign. The first at Edgar Street in a 2-2 draw against Tranmere Rovers and his second versus Crewe in March 2009. He was virtually an ever-present, making 48 appearances, but in a very disappointing season the Bulls were relegated back to League Two.
Graham Turner said he would have liked Toumani to have stayed at Edgar Street for another season, but a clause in his contact had allowed him to speak to other clubs, with Peterborough concluding a deal.
Turner told BBC Hereford and Worcester, “He has done very well for us over a two-year period, one season on loan from Watford, and the second season as our player. He still had two years to run on his contract, but there was that clause in there that allowed him to talk to other clubs.
“Obviously the disappointment of relegation led to him believing he could play at a higher level, and that has been proved by the fact that it is a Championship club that has come in for him. In this day and age there are not too many buying clubs at our level, so we have to look at that and think well it’s not been bad business.
“We’ve helped another young player on his way so we hope that next time we are interested in a young player we can quote the case of the people like Michael Mcindoe, Paul Parry and now Toumani Diagouraga.”
Championship side Peterborough United paid an undisclosed fee (believed to be in the region of £200,000) for Toumani in June 2009, offering him a four-year contract. He was regularly a member of the Posh side at the beginning, but fell behind Jake Livermore and Josh Simpson in the pecking order by Christmas and so joined Brentford on loan.
Here his success mirrored “Dave’s” spell at Edgar Street with Brentford consolidating their position in League One before signing permanently for the Bees on a three-year deal in the summer of 2010. He reached the first cup final of his career with Brentford, but ended up on the losing side and was sent-off for two bookable offences in a 1-0 defeat to Carlisle in the 2011 Football League Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium.
Over the course of the next four seasons, Toumani racked up 246 first team games for Brentford and apart from a brief loan spell at Portsmouth was the glue that kept the Bees midfield together, enjoying automatic promotion to the Championship in 2014.
He was linked with a move to Glasgow Rangers in January 2016 where he could have teamed up again with his former manager Mark Warburton, but instead moved to Leeds United for a near £600,000 fee. This move started brightly enough but a fall-out with Steve Evans meant he ended up training with the U-23 team!
A 12-match loan spell at Ipswich provided Toumani with some much-needed game time in the Championship, prior to a permanent move to Plymouth Argyle in August 2017. Still only 32-years of age in June there could be much more for the French player to look forward to.
He is currently with Swindon Town on a two-year deal, however, an injury plagued campaign saw him restricted to 15 appearances in the 2018/19 season.
I doubt we will see Toumani back in a Hereford line-up one day, but having seen Rob Purdie and Ryan Green donning the Bulls’ shirt with pride, who knows!?
By Keith Hall
Images: Steve Niblett