It’s rapidly become an extremely speculative offseason. So far we’ve heard about who the Portland Thorns are planning to offload in order to make the #1 pick in the NWSL draft. Now rumors are spreading about the team’s interest in Kadidiatou Diani. Goal.com reports that the French winger has turned down a contract extension with Paris Saint-Germain and that the Thorns are supposedly ready to make a big offer to get her to ensure that her career takes her to Portland next.
Diani (whose first name is often shortened to Kadi), only 24, has 54 caps and 10 goals for her country and started all but one game at the 2019 World Cup for France, getting an assist in the game against Brazil. Not only that, she’s having her most productive professional season ever, with 8 goals in Ligue 1 Feminine in only just over half the total games played, well on pace to beat last season’s total of 13.
Pursuing Diani would seem to dovetail with the previously reported trade for the #1 pick in the rapidly approaching NWSL draft where the Thorns were prepared to give up Midge Purce. Purce’s potential departure leaves the front line with a big hole: she was a major source of production while the internationals were away at the World Cup, and the Thorns missed this production when she wasn’t able to sustain it after that time. Purce had a breakout season last year and is considered a hot prospect at 24, but Diani is a winger with an international pedigree and proven ability at the highest level at the same age. Not only is she a scoring threat who has been comfortable playing up top in league play, she’s a decisive supporting attacker as well. Her crossing ability was most on show at the World Cup, but she also came close cutting inside when France would overload the left flank. There’s no denying her skill set would be a perfect match for the unique demands of playing central striker for the Thorns, where the team requires mobility and power, ability with the ball at your feet and your back to goal and willingness to swap places with Tobin Heath on the fly should the improvisation of the moment require it.
Goal notes that the deal could be worth up to $445,000 per year. The new allocation money introduced by the NWSL this offseason, which is money purchasable from the league directly that can be spent above the salary cap, is capped at $300,000 bought per team. However, teams are allowed to trade their allocation money among themselves once bought, and it’s possible that part of the rumored earlier deal with Purce and Emily Sonnett involves some of this allocation money as well. A $445,000/a contract would be a big investment in a single player—around the range of the top end salaries for the senior USWNT players. It’s a salary in the family of the highest paid players at Lyon. Sam Kerr’s contract at Chelsea, worth somewhere in the region of $400,000 to $500,000 a year, would be the nearest comparison. For a player in Diani who is very good indeed but isn’t clearly the best player in the world, it’s a figure that may make some wince, especially with the resources that may have to be moved to make it work.
This also has the potential to be a market-setting deal. The Thorns have made clear their commitment to spending to grow the women’s game but have until now have been constrained by the rules of the league. Now the window is open for them to invest, and it looks like they intend to do so straight away.
It’s a thing worth remarking on, this rumor, even as totally speculative as it is, because it seems to inaugurate a new time in the NWSL. That the Thorns are driving this level of flurry about internationals with such potentially high price tags is a major change, a headline the likes of which you wouldn’t see from nearly any women’s soccer team on the planet (except for Lyon, of course). The Thorns have talked a big game during the occasionally lean years of the early NWSL: now is the time to see how serious they mean to be.