CHRIS COLEMAN last night led the tributes to former Fulham cult hero Papa Bouba Diop, who died at the age of 42.
The Senegal midfielder, who also played in the Premier League for Portsmouth, passed away after a long illness.
Ex-Fulham boss Coleman brought Diop to English football from Lens in 2004 and told SunSport: “I’m gutted to hear the news. It’s so sad.
“Papa was one of my favourite players I’ve worked with. He did a great job for me at Fulham but, more importantly, he was a lovely person.
“He had time for everyone and treated people with respect.
“It’s truly a sad loss.”
Man mountain Diop, who stood at an imposing 6ft 5in, was loved by fans of both the Cottagers and Portsmouth - earning the nickname ‘The Wardrobe’ because of his size.
Fulham earlier confirmed the news on their twitter account: “We are devastated to hear news reports this evening that Papa Bouba Diop has passed away, aged 42. Rest well, Wardrobe.”
Portsmouth also paid tribute as Diop was a crucial part of Harry Redknapp’s side that famously won the FA Cup in 2008.
Pompey tweeted: “We’re devastated to hear reports that FA Cup winner Papa Bouba Diop has passed away after a long illness, aged just 42. Rest in peace, The Wardrobe.”
Redknapp’s son Jamie said on Sky Sports: “Incredibly sad. He was a real gentleman who was always smiling. He’s gone too young.”
Diop also played in the Championship for West Ham - where he helped the club to promotion via the play-offs in 2012 - and Birmingham City.
He was also part of the Senegal side that shocked world champions France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup.
Diop scored the only goal in the 1-0 win, which still ranks as one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. He won 63 international caps and retired from the game in 2013.
World governing body Fifa declared: “Fifa is saddened to learn of the passing of Senegal legend Papa Bouba Diop. Once a World Cup hero, always a World Cup hero.”
Birmingham City, for whom Diop played two games in 2012-13, wrote on Twitter: “We are devastated to learn of the passing of former player Papa Bouba Diop at the age of 42.
“Our thoughts are with Papa’s family and friends at this extremely difficult time.”