Unfinished business for Liverpool reject Alou Diarra as Premier League comes calling again

Having joined West Ham on Friday, the 31-year-old midfielder, who shone in France after previously struggling on Merseyside, has the chance to prove his doubters wrong
By Mohammed Ali & James McManus

The Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, Alou Diarra?! Yes, if you believe Bayern general manager and now president Uli Hoeness, the Marseille midfielder is "one of the seven wonders of the world".

Despite such high praise it was, however, a rickety old road for new West Ham United signing Diarra at the start of his professional career before his star finally started to shine back in his native France.

After struggling to make his mark in England before finding solace in France, it is ultimately East London where the 31-year-old will end up, potentially for the next three seasons after his move to West Ham was confirmed on Friday.

Diarra arrived at Anfield back in 2002 on a free transfer from Bayern Munich having played alongside the likes of Owen Hargreaves and Phillip Lahm in the German giants' reserve team. His move to Merseyside was prompted by only limited first-team opportunities in Germany, and he arrived with a burgeoning reputation.

Nevertheless, Liverpool had plucked players from obscurity before under Gerard Houllier's, and for every Sami Hyypia there was a Bernard Diomede, and for every John Arne Riise there was a Sean Dundee - so while it was rare and exciting to see the club sign someone from such a European heavyweight, it was tempered by Houllier's ropey and somewhat scattergun approach to the transfer market.


In truth, his success elsewhere came as a great surprise to many at Anfield given the fact that he didn't make a single first-team appearance during a three-year spell at the club, all of which he spent out on loan back in France carving out a reputation for himself. His route to the side was blocked by the likes of Salif Diao and Igor Biscan in the midfield battler role as back up, as Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann established a solid partnership in the middle of the park.

After completing his loan spell with Lens in 2004-05, the face of the club had changed. Former Valencia coach Rafael Benitez had arrived to replace Houllier, changing the style and culture of the club in the process, with Xabi Alonso brought in. Benitez was thought to be a fan of Diarra's, but again, not enough to displace any first-team regulars or guarantee him any playing time, and an offer of around £2 million was seen as good business for a spare part as he moved back to Lens on a permanent deal.

Diarra's time at Anfield was fraught with unfortunate timing as opposed to anything negative to do with his talent. He arrived at the club as a rising star and in desperate need of the football that he had been deprived of in Germany; while he was over in France on loan, he became a largely forgotten man in Liverpool and the club just moved on without him.

There are very few players who have slipped the net in such a fashion at the club, but Diarra's absence eventually led to the purchase of Mohamed Sissoko a season later from Valencia and Javier Mascherano the season after that as Benitez began to come to terms with the need to add more steel to his midfield. Had Diarra enjoyed one more year out on loan, he may have eventually gone on to make an impact at the club, but we will never truly know what might have been.

After the move to Lens was made permanent, Diarra had arguably his best season to date, contributing heavily to the club's rise in the Ligue 1 table before progressing to the last 32 of the Uefa Cup. The switch also aided Diarra's international dream, with his consistency at club level ensuring Raymond Domenech included him in the squad list for the 2006 World Cup, as back-up for Patrick Vieira. Diarra would also appear in the infamous final against Italy.

As the midfielder garnered a higher reputation, he would make another ill-advised move. This time, five-time champions Lyon came calling, and again he would suffer from less playing time, with Diarra second in the pecking order, behind Jeremy Toulalan. The issue turned sour, after both player and manager Gerard Houllier became involved in a public spat, with the midfielder even refusing to play another game that season before seeking a move elsewhere.

Diarra's defining season would be the 2008-09 campaign with Bordeaux. After a decent first year in the Aquitaine region, Diarra benefitted from Laurent Blanc's methods to position Yoann Gourcuff as the creative force, leaving Diarra to roam freely in front of the back four. The change instigated Diarra to outperform several players, before leading Les Girondins to the league and cup double - the first side to end Lyon's seven-year dominance.

Diarra was subsequently named captain in 2010 - and the form displayed in Ligue 1 and the Champions League (Bordeaux reached the quarter-final in 2010, beating Bayern and Juventus along the way) propelled the previously maligned midfielder as a mainstay of the French squad. When Blanc departed to take over the reins at the national team, after the World Cup debacle - his relationship with the midfielder remained mutual. Diarra would gain the national armband five times, before pushing through a move to Marseille in 2011.

At the Stade Velodrome, the midfielder's much anticipated move had not brought as much enthusiasm after a series of poor displays, to coincide with the club's form. Diarra would still feature in the club's European exploits, but endured an underwhelming first season on the south coast, and his latest move to England might just be what he needs with plenty still to offer at 31.

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