By Nicolas Miklusiak
After joining Marseille from Bordeaux last summer, Alou Diarra had a complicated year with his new club. At the age of 30, people were beginning to ask whether he had made the wrong move.
However, the midfielder now seems to prove his doubters wrong after reclaiming a place in the French national team for Euro 2012 and completing an unexpected resurrection.
Following Laurent Blanc’s announcement of the Ligue 1 players who would be joining the French squad for Euro 2012, many eyes were drawn to Diarra’s name, and again when the Marseille man was confirmed in the 23-man squad to fly to Ukraine.
His performances up until the winter were, like his team’s, respectable. However, he lost his form in the second-half of the season.
"He began to impose his impressive physical qualities on the game. Against the Ukraine as well, he dominated the midfield"
Away from his normal role following the departure of Lucho Gonzalez, he was forced to become the man through which attacks were started - something he is not comfortable with.
Apart from his performances in the two legs of the Champions League tie against Inter, Diarra attracted ridicule and criticism for his overall level of play.
The native of Villepinte, however, played on with chronic back pain. This pain has not allowed him to dominate the midfield as he did for several years with Bordeaux.
On the Atlantic coast, he also played a part in leading Blanc’s side to the league title in 2009. Despite his poor performances for Marseille, the coach never gave up on him.
And now, after two full games with Les Blues at Euro 2012, the midfielder is being celebrated by the press and his peers alike.
He seized his chance in the warm-up game against Serbia following Yann M’Vila’s injury. But his tournament didn’t start well, losing Joleon Lescott from a free-kick as the English centre-back headed his team in front.
But then, he began to impose his impressive physical qualities on the game. Against the Ukraine as well, he dominated the midfield.
Before Tuesday’s game against Sweden, it seems obvious that he prefers working with Blanc, becoming the player he once was at Bordeaux. He presses, attacking his opponent before recovering the ball and laying it off to a team-mate.
He keeps it simple, which is of no surprise to Blanc himself: "When you know the player, you know what he is able to do," the coach commented. "These are choices and these are bets to win. I am not surprised of his benefits."
Diarra has displaced M’Vila from the team, a man who was widely recognised as the undisputed first choice defensive midfielder before his injury. But the Rennes player did not take the decision badly.
"I am sincerely very content [about it]," M’Vila said. "If it can advance the team, even better.
"When you have someone imposing as Alou [in front of] the defence, we can go forward easily because we know very well that there is security behind."
A great professional and a born competitor, the 30-year-old is throwing off the shackles on the big stage. And he surely won’t stop at the European Championship.
Back from the brink, he is taking his revenge, and hoping to extend it, to the delight of the French team and the coach who has always supported him.