Sheffield Wednesday: Claude Dielna puts close friendship with Wolves’ Bakary Sako on hold

Claude Dielna
Claude Dielna
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French defender Claude Dielna is ready to put his close friendship with Bakary Sako on hold until after tonight’s Championship tussle at Molineux.

Left-footed Owls player Dielna regards Wolves’ 12-goal top-scorer Sako as “one of the best players” in the division.

Nonetheless, the 27-year-old is determined to keep the Mali international quiet as Wednesday look to equal a club-record of 17 league clean sheets.

“Bakary is my friend; I have known him a long time,” he said. “We spoke a couple of weeks ago on Twitter and he’s sent me a message ahead of this game.

“Bakary is a very good Championship player. He’s one of the best in the league. It is no problem for me playing against him.

“I hope we win as we didn’t beat Wolves the last time we played them.

“Wolves have got very good players but so have we. It’s a big game but I think we can win.

“We have a lot of confidence and we need to keep going.”

Dielna, who spent last season on loan at Ligue 1 side Ajaccio from Olympiakos, is relishing the prospect of facing eighth-placed Wolves on a surface that is conducive to passing football. He admits the poor state of the Hillsborough pitch has contributed to their dismal home form.

“The pitch is very, very difficult to play on but we have to deal with it,” he acknowledged. “All the players like to play on good pitches so hopefully Wolves’ will suit us.”

It is highly unlikely Wednesday will break into the play-off positions but Dielna has encouraged his teammates to keep looking up the table.

He said: “The top-six is possible. We have nine games left and we need to win them all. We need to win at Wolves and we will see what happens.”

With skipper Glenn Loovens and Kamil Zayatte ruled out due to injuries, Dielna will continue his partnership with stand-in captain Tom Lees at the heart of the Owls’ rearguard. It will be Dielna’s 23rd Wednesday outing since arriving on a free transfer last August.

“I think I have played good in the last couple of games but there is more to come from me,” he insisted. “Centre-back is my preferred position. I like playing there.

“The key is to stay compact and make sure we all defend together. Tom [Lees] is a good player and it is very good playing with him because we speak a lot.”

Slowly but surely Dielna has adjusted to the rigours of English football and Owls boss Stuart Gray reckons the best is yet to come from the defender.

“Claude’s English is much-improved,” said Gray. “You always expect a signing to hit the ground running but Claude came in from a different country and had to learn the language.

“He gives us that balance at left centre-back of left-back or if I want to play three at the back. What I don’t want to do is pigeon hole him to one position.

“There is more to come from Claude in his performances. Once he’s had a full pre-season, he’s one of those players who we will see the best of next season.”

Gray has challenged Dielna to add goals to his game and get better in possession. Dielna has scored just once since moving to South Yorkshire, a spectacular last-minute winner at Blackburn Rovers.

He stressed: “Every player has got to improve.

“Claude has scored one goal but hopefully he can start chipping in with a few more goals. His quality from back to front needs to improve as well.”

It has been a steep learning curve for Dielna, but he is enjoying his football.

“I like the fans here and my English is getting better,” he said. “I take lessons every day to improve my English.

“As a defender, you need to speak good English and talk to your teammates on the pitch. It gives confidence to everybody.

“I understand people and that makes it easier to play better.

“It is good for me and the team.”