After disastrous spells in Russia with Anzhi Makhachkala and then Lokomotiv Moscow,Diarra’s career had ground to a complete standstill. Some of the damage done to his career was out of his control, but a large degree of it was self-inflicted. As a result, the player had given up all hope of a recall. He even revealed back in March 2013that, as far as he is concerned, “it’s over” with the France national team and he slipped into premature international retirement.
By Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip)
After the emotional rollercoaster that was life under Marcelo Bielsa, a short period that included incredible highs but ended on an embarrassingly familiar low, the clouds that have surrounded Olympique de Marseille since El Loco’s abrupt departure have still not dissipated.
However, despite the dark days at Stade Velodrome at present, there is one shining ray of light for the ailing southern giants. Lassana Diarra has been an absolute revelation for OM in midfield since arriving in the summer from Lokomotiv Moscow after a lengthy contract dispute. Had the 30-year-old not hit the ground running, then the chances are that Les Phoceens would be in a worse position than the one they already find themselves in.
Back in August, a stunning goal in a 6-0 win over ESTAC Troyes on his Ligue 1 debut for Marseille helped to hand new coach Michel a winning start to life in Provence. The former Real Madrid, Arsenal and Chelsea man also chipped in with an assist in the 4-1 win over SC Bastia two weeks later. While summer arrivals such as Remy Cabella and Lucas Silva are largely failing to live up to expectations, few players are worthy of being exempt from the justified criticism OM find themselves receiving.
Diarra, the outstanding figure of their season so far, is one of those who merits applause. An older head in a relatively young Marseille dressing room, the Frenchman has gone from being the hotheaded character of old, to something of an elder statesman in the team. Speaking after Diarra’s excellent performance in a controversy-marred 1-1 draw at home to Olympique Lyonnais back in September, Michel paid tribute to the southerners’ No. 10 and his newfound maturity.
“With the performance he put in, it seemed like we were playing with 12 players, not 10 (Romain Alessandrini was sent off a 1-0 down and just before half time). It's nothing new -- he's getting better and better. When the younger players see such a professional, it's unthinkable that they wouldn't follow his example. I'm not the one who assigned him that role (of leader). He took it on himself. He's solving more problems than we ask of him."
Diarra’s excellent form and improved attitude has not gone unnoticed. The midfielder was named in L’Equipe’s Team of the Week for the 11th round of fixtures recently, the fourth time already this season that he has made the selection.
On top of that, Diarra was also voted as September’s UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Month, finishing ahead of OGC Nice’s Hatem Ben Arfa and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani with an impressive 52% of votes. The award was totally justified and, as added compensation, Diarra also finds himself back in the France national team after an absence of five years.
Les Bleus’ coach Didier Deschamps recently called up the Marseille man for the friendlies against Armenia and Denmark, where he played for the full 90 minutes in the 4-0 win over Armenians in Paris. That was the France international’s 29th appearance for his country, but his first since August 2010 in Norway. To former France tactician Raymond Domenech, Diarra’s return to the national team setup was not a surprise.
As he told France Football before the player was confirmed in the squad for the Armenia and Denmark games, the only thing that was ever in doubt was how long it would take for him to be recalled.
"It was a gamble and it's already paid off. But for those that knew him, it was a foregone conclusion. I know him so I'm not surprised. He's at his level. Didier is going to see him because he's living beside Marseille. It will be up to him to decide if he has better in his team. Lassana still has a chance to catch up with the train and I really hope he does.”
Diarra’s early displays for Marseille, showing no signs of almost an entire calendar year without kicking a football because of a bitter contract dispute with former employers Lokomotiv, were enough to encourage Deschamps to reconsider his previous stance on the player. The Paris-born midfielder admitted that he too changed his mind about Les Bleus after speaking with the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 UEFA European Championship-winning captain.
"I had a discussion with the coach. I told him of my motivation. I wanted to return for France. I had this objective in joining Marseille and obviously I convinced him. I thank him for calling me. I went through several stages but had to stay positive. I was certain I was going to play again but I did not know when, I just had to get ready. Today, I realise that when you have the chance to do a job you love, you should take advantage. Now I have the chance to rejoin the France team and I must seize it.”
Diarra is certainly going the right way about making the most of his second chance so far. If the talented midfielder can remain consistent for the remainder of the season, despite the many distractions at perennial crisis club Marseille, then he will surely be a part of Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 on home soil next summer.