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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Lassana Diarra signed by PSG with a focus on Uefa Champions League showdown with Real Madrid

The former Al Jazira man has been brought in to add depth to the Ligue 1 side's midfield ahead of clash with the defending champions in the last 16 next month.

Lassana Diarra is now on Paris Saint-Germain's books. Franck Fife / AFP
Lassana Diarra is now on Paris Saint-Germain's books. Franck Fife / AFP

It is a homecoming, of sorts. Lassana Diarra, one of modern football’s great wanderers, has exchanged Abu Dhabi for Paris, the city of his birth and, a little unexpectedly, he finds himself, approaching the age of 33, in a position to embark on the most garlanded phase of a zig-zag career.

To join the Paris Saint-Germain of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Dani Alves is to be all but sure of a French league title, and to feel confident of winning other prizes besides that by the end of May.

It may be a homecoming, but there is more pragmatism than romance about a deal that removes, after a brief stay that ended in December, from the Arabian Gulf League and Al Jazira a player with a dashing list of employers.

Diarra has been hired by the French league leaders to buttress midfield, as a facilitator for the glamourous show-room of a forward line at the ambitious French club.

Because he is not Cup-tied in European competition, he has been taken on with a particular pair of imminent fixtures in mind.

PSG, despite losing against Lyon at the weekend, have every confidence their canter to the Ligue 1 title can be maintained by the stock of midfielders on their roster.

But they hope Diarra - who has not played any football since November when he made his last appearance for Jazira - will be adding bite and knowhow to the area in front of defence by the time they play Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League in February.

They go to the Bernabeu in the middle of next month, to a stadium where Diarra, wearing the No 5 jersey with the name ‘Lass’ across his shoulders, was a respected, valued colleague of the likes of Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Word is some Madrid players used to refer to Diarra, affectionately, even admiringly, as ‘anti-sistema’, anti-system. That’s not because his football was non-conformist – far from it: his positional instincts and organisation have always been a forte – but because he would stand up to authority when he felt within his rights to do so.

Diarra’s hopscotching career, from the Premier League to Madrid, onto Russia, and now taking in both France’s heavyweight clubs, Marseille and PSG, has featured a few confrontations off the pitch as well as some firm tackles and authoritative interventions on it. A dispute over his contract status with Lokomotiv Moscow, who he joined from Anzhi Makhachkala, meant he spent the best part of a year without football, from 2014 to 2015.

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PSG sign former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Al Jazira veteran Lassana Diarra

Al Jazira sign former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra

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Over a decade ago he left Chelsea, who he joined aged 20 when they were English champions, because he was impatient for more first-team football. He left Arsenal in favour of Portsmouth, where he won an FA Cup, for the same reason.

His recruitment by Madrid in 2008 endorsed his belief that his commanding, stabilising influence as an anchor midfielder with stamina and courage deserved the highest platform. He would win the Primera Liga with Madrid, although not before some prickly exchanges with Jose Mourinho, the then Madrid head coach.

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He won the first of his 34 caps for France as a young, fringe Chelsea player and bad luck with injuries have prevented him going to more than one major tournament. He continues to be admired in France and such was his impact on joining Marseille in 2015 that he was very quickly recalled to the national side by Didier Deschamps, the current coach.

Should Diarra succeed at PSG, there may yet be another comeback as an international, and space for him in France’s plans for the Russia World Cup.