From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.03 :: Jan. 17, 2009
Lassana Diarra may shirk at the comparisons being drawn between himself and Claude Makelele, but Real Madrid’s latest signing will certainly go a long way towards endearing himself to the Los Blancos faithful if he can replicate the performances of his fellow countryman.
Diarra stepped out for the first time in competitive action since his move from Portsmouth on the Bernabeu turf to play a typically understated role in the 1-0 win over Villarreal.
There was nothing flamboyant about his debut — the midfielder covered every blade of grass as he attempted to shut out a dangerous Yellow Submarine side intent on keeping Diarra’s more attacking team-mates out of the game.
His display was vintage Diarra and reminiscent of Makelele, who enjoyed three successful years at the heart of the Real midfield.
Diarra, though, is quick to distance himself from media talk likening him to his fellow Frenchman. “It’s an honour to be compared to Makelele, but Makelele is Makelele and I am me. We have some things in common but I’m my own player,” he insisted.
His Real bow, in front of a crowd of 80,000, marked the latest chapter in an eventful career that is still in its relative infancy.
At 23, Diarra has already played for three of the biggest clubs in world football.
Starting as a youngster at Le Mans and Nantes, the midfielder moved to Le Havre where he caught the eye of Chelsea, who swiftly lured the then 20-year-old to the Barclays English Premier League in July 2005.
The Blues won the EPL title and the English Carling Cup in Diarra’s first year at Stamford Bridge and a personal high came when he won the club’s Young Player of the Year award, despite making only a handful of appearances. It was at Chelsea that Diarra worked alongside midfield anchorman Makelele and his respect for the former France international is obvious.
“Claude has been my role model for years, so to work alongside him every day is a pleasure,” revealed Diarra during his Chelsea days.
Any aspirations Diarra had of succeeding Makelele in the Chelsea side were banished the following season, though, when he was played out of position and sold to London rival Arsenal in August 2007 after falling out of favour with Jose Mourinho.
He quickly found himself behind Gilberto Silva and Matthieu Flamini with the Gunners and, after 18 frustrating months, he departed for Portsmouth last January as he looked to cement his place in the France squad ahead of Euro 2008.
While his assertion that he saw the move to Fratton Park as a stepping stone to greater things may have angered some Pompey fans, his performances on the pitch left them in no doubt that the GBP5.5 million transfer fee the club paid was money well spent.
Despite having limited success at both Arsenal and Chelsea, it is easy to see why Diarra fitted into the English game so well; his tough-tackling attitude has seen him compared with EPL greats such as Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira and Makelele and it was this burgeoning potential which persuaded Real to part with GBP20 million to formally secure his signature recently.
Diarra’s no-nonsense style of play is exactly what Real requires at the moment as it looks to put a disastrous start to the season behind and attempt to reduce the 12-point gap between the side and Spanish Primera Liga leader Barcelona.
With defensive midfielders Ruben de la Red and Mahamadou Diarra both ruled out through injury for the rest of the campaign, Diarra will be charged with protecting a back four that has conceded far too many goals in recent months.
Gago, Javi Garcia and Guti have all struggled to fill the hole left by the injured duo and boss Juande Ramos has now splashed the cash to solve his side’s shortcomings.
Diarra will have his work cut out, though. Someone of Diarra’s style of play does not fit easily into the ‘Galactico’ mould that made Real famous and the fans may prefer to watch entertaining football.
But they may think it worthwhile to remember the words of Zinedine Zidane after Real sold Makelele in 2003 and signed David Beckham in his place. “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” Zidane said.
The Real faithful will need to welcome Diarra with open arms and help nurture his confidence if he is now to become the engine that helps drive the club back into title contention.
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