“Singing I-I-Iliman Ndiaye,” filled the air, a thousand or so Sheffield United fans who had started the August Bank Holiday with a Friday-night trip to Kenilworth Road roaring in unison. Oli McBurnie might have broken his 43 league game goal drought to earn the point that kept United temporarily at the Championship’s summit, but it was his strike partner, Ndiaye, who provided the electricity.
For 83 minutes at Luton, Ndiaye was a livewire, seemingly everywhere. It was his snapshot that forced the corner from which McBurnie’s equaliser came. Minutes before, in a deft touch, Ndiaye rolled away from Jordan Clark on the edge of the area in a moment of quality that could have graced any stage.
In a below-par team performance, Ndiaye shone. A perfect blend of trickery, hassling and harrying. Of running the channels and dropping deep to link play.
“He does all his best work behind the opposition’s midfield in those tight spaces. It’s where the most gifted players operate,” Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, said.
Ndiaye has scored three goals so far this season. His first came in a victory over Millwall, with Murray Wallace bounced off the ball.
“He looks physically inferior to a lot of centre-halves,” David McGurk, Ndiaye’s manager during a 2020 loan stint at Hyde United, said.
“But we saw him push 6ft 2in, 15st defenders off the ball. It’s the same in the Championship; he is bullying players that he shouldn’t dominate.”
Heckingbottom added: “His technique looking after the ball is phenomenal. That allows him to focus on his low centre of gravity and natural strength.”
Then came a contrasting brace against Blackburn. The first was a deflection off his backside, but the second was – like a solo effort at Craven Cottage last season – special.
Collecting the ball just inside opposition territory, Ndiaye skipped past Tyler Morton, drove forward, threw in a stepover and finished from 20 yards.
“He was in a fantastic defensive position and won the ball back himself,” Heckingbottom explained.
“That’s why I was always championing him; because of the work he does without the ball.”
Born in Rouen to a French mother and a Senegalese father, Ndiaye spent a year in Marseille’s youth set-up.
But aged 11, the family moved to Senegal and Ndiaye’s diet was rich with beach football.
Three years later, the family uprooted to London and, at 16, Ndiaye joined Boreham Wood’s PASE Academy, a centre designed to allow teenagers to continue their footballing development while also focusing on education. Ndiaye’s focus, though, was football.
Having played a part in five national titles between 2017 and 2019, Ndiaye departed for Sheffield.
He had not made a first-team appearance. Initially, though, the consensus was that Ndiaye would not make it at Bramall Lane.
‘He got kicked and gave as good as he took’
But McGurk was searching for talent to bolster his Northern Premier League squad, and Ndiaye’s worth ethic caught the eye. Hyde’s initial loan approach was rebuffed, with the hope being that interest higher up the pyramid would come.
But when that failed to materialise, McGurk tried his luck again.
“You got the feeling he wasn’t one of the really highly rated youngsters at Sheffield United,” McGurk recalls. “But after one session, we knew we had someone way above our level. The group appreciated that straight away.”