Remember Him? Former Chelsea & Arsenal Midfielder Set For Shock Euro 2016 Call-Up


On the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Real Madrid's Lassana Diarra was told by doctors that due to an intestinal peroblem he would need to rest for an indefinite period. The then 25-year-old missed the tournament, but it was perhaps for the best as Les Bleus crashed and burned and with it the reputations of many of Raymond Domenech's squad.

Interestingly, his last appearance for France came just after that infamous World Cup when the whole squad was banned for at least one game - Diarra lined-up against Norway beside the likes of Charles N'Zogbia, Loic Remy and Samir Nasri as Laurent Blanc ushered in a new era to the national team

After playing for both Chelsea and Arsenal, then two seasons at Portsmouth, the midfielder gained the reputation as being difficult and believing his own hype. Forced out of Real Madrid in 2012, the former Le Havre youngster spent two seasons in Russia for both Anzhi Makhachkala and Lokomotiv Moscow. Diarra then refused to turn up for training and was sacked by the capital side and due to his contract he went the whole of last season without a club.

There was a sense of shock and caution when in quick succession Marcelo Bielsa and Marseille announced they had signed both Diarra and Abou Diaby on free transfers as part of their new look squad.

FBL-FRA-FRIENDLY-MARSEILLE-JUVENTUS : News Photo

Moving to OM, a return to the France squad would have been the last thing on Diarra's mind. Now 30 years old, getting fit and playing regular football was the priority. Due to his nomadic nature and mixed club form, Diarra had rarely been mentioned with a possible France call, starting just 67 games in the five years following his forced withdrawal.

There mere fact he has never started more than 19 games during a single season - although a low risk move for Marseille, it was a risk none the less.

The club had their own problems, Bielsa left after one game and OM lost their two opening games to Caen and Stade de Reims.

Spanish boss Michel took over, and in the stunning 6-0 win over Troyes, Diarra announced his arrival in the league with a wonder-strike to put his side 2-0 up.

Ten years earlier Diarra played for Le Havre as they drew 2-2 in Ligue 2 - so it was amazing to think that with 28 international caps, on the 23rd of August 2015, Diarra was making his Ligue 1 debut.

Diarra has started every league game for his new club since he made his debut, and when picking his squad for the upcoming friendlies against Armenia and Denmark, Didier Deschamps recognised his performances by naming him as part of the 23-man squad.

"This is a proud moment, recognised the midfielder. I am very happy for myself, for my family and all those who helped me.

"My last selection dates back to 2010, it's been a long time. With the France team, I had a sense of incompleteness."

Carling Cup Final: Chelsea v Arsenal : News Photo

In two months, the 30-year-old has gone from fans scoffing at his acceptance of the No.10 jersey to being regarded as perhaps the best performer on the team. In terms of pass completion percentages, Diarra has scored an impressive 92.7% over his seven games, only bettered by a quartet of Paris Saint-Germain players – only Thiago Silva can boast more minutes on the pitch.

No one else in the Marseille team has made more successful tackles, or beaten more players off the dribble than the former Arsenal man. His partner in Michel’s 4-2-3-1, Lucas Silva – on loan from Real Madrid – is the only midfielder to see more of the ball than Diarra.

Michel, a Real Madrid legend in his own playing days, has constantly repeated just how important the veteran midfielder has been to his team’s positive play so far, and he hopes he can set an example for the rest of the season.

With the 2016 European Championships being hosted in Diarra’s home country next summer, this is the perfect time to make a run for Deschamps squad – but there is plenty of competition for places.

Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye are still considered the starting trio, he then needs to out-perform the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Moussa Sissoko and Geoffrey Kondogbia amongst others.

Experience is in his favour. Deschamps always prefers to have the odd veteran in his squad, someone wise that can add an off-the-field presence as well as leadership on the pitch. Five years ago it would have be unthinkable to suggest Diarra was this type of player, but at Marseille it looks like he has turned a new page.

It is now up to former Portsmouth man to prove everyone wrong, and pulling on the famous Bleus jersey would be a wonderful step in the right direction.

 

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