Mahamadou Diarra was delighted just to make it back on a Premier League pitch – but Saturday’s win over Aston Villa made his return in a Fulham shirt extra special.
The Malian midfielder has had a long road back from the injury problems that blighted his last season with Fulham, but his determination to play again impressed new manager Felix Magath after he had been left without a contract since last summer. The 32 year-old revived his old partnership with Steve Sidwell to good effect during Saturday’s vital win at Villa Park that has given Fulham renewed belief that they can avoid relegation from the top flight.
I didn’t know whether I’d make it back. I had a really big injury and it was not easy. But I stayed positive that I would play again and now I’m back and I’m so happy.
I can say thanks to God. It was a really long wait and really difficult for me so today, to see myself back on a Premier League pitch … I’m so pleased. I must also say thanks to Fulham for giving me the opportunity to be here and I must say thank you to my teammates today. It wasn’t easy but my teammates helped me. My body was tiring towards the end but my mentality and my teammates pulled me through.
His professionalism means that helping Fulham out of their perilous predicament remains the only thing on his mind. Diarra is convinced that the confidence gained after Hugo Rodallega’s late winner can help them climb out of the relegation zone.
My comeback was really great for me and for the team, but the most important thing was to get three points. We deserved the win. We controlled the game and we were still trying to play. We got the three points but we can play much better. When they equalised, we didn’t let out heads drop, we kept going and we got our reward.
The 3,000 away fans were great. They really want us to stay up so we have to do it for them as they are always here for us. We now have five finals to play and all the games are very important. We still believe. Why not?
You wouldn’t thought Mahmadou Diarra hadn’t played a first-team game for sixteen months judging by his impact at Aston Villa on Saturday. His anticipation, composure, that familiar range of passing that belies the common description of him as a defensively-minded midfield player, and his stamina were in all in evidence. This wasn’t a rampaging performance to inspire, but a controlled, intelligent display to marvel at. Much like the man himself, it was considered and understated. When Fulham’s midnight hour arrived, Diarra delivered.
Diarra’s desire is unquestionable. After a decorated career, which saw him grace the grandest of stages for Real Madrid, the lure of representing his native Mali again after impressing for Fulham under Martin Jol proved too great. A serious knee injury that he couldn’t shake off was the price of a return to international football – but Diarra refused to give in. He broke down two or three times during his long lay-off from injury, which meant Jol couldn’t justify keeping him on at the end of last season. Undeterred, Diarra continued to train at Motspur Park, hoping to earn a second chance.
Rene Meulensteen was rather blunt in his assessment of Diarra’s chances of making it back, but Felix Magath – a man who sets great store in hard work – recognised a kindred spirit. A short-term, pay-as-you-play deal was the veteran’s reward, but still the whispers remained about whether he was up to it. An unused substitute against Everton – when you felt his combative qualities could have proved useful, especially after Ashkan Dejagah’s thunderbolt hauled Fulham level – Diarra instead got his opportunity at Villa Park and how he seized it.
Many months ago Diarra’s undoubted class was keeping Steve Sidwell out of the side and here he was partnering one of Fulham’s performers of the season in a crucial clash. The combination worked well: Sidwell all hustle and bustle, scampering around the midfield in a high-octane, energetic effort, Diarra sitting deeper protecting Fulham’s fragile defence. He was eager to receive possession, showing for the ball in front of the back four, and always looking for a forward pass – a welcome change as Fulham’s overworked midfielders have often ceded territory in favour of retaining possession over the past few months.
There was a snappiness about his play too. You winced when he went to try and win the ball for fear of those knees failing again, but his experience and calm demeanour counted for plenty as that far-too-open second half wound on. He kept the ball almost with ease at crucial moments and underlined just how badly a struggling side has missed a player of his ilk. A far more precise passer than Sidwell, Kvist or Parker, Diarra offers a different dimension in midfield, much more cultured than the conventional stoppers that he has replaced.
His part in that dramatic winner shouldn’t go unnoticed every. Lewis Holtby’s desire to win can’t be question – he appears to have developed a real affinity with a club he only joined on loan in January – but his delivery from dead-ball situations was poor on Saturday. His second chance to cross for Rodallega’s deft header came about only through Diarra’s excellent interception of a Villa clearance and precise pass out wide. It happened so swiftly that Villa’s defensive line couldn’t push out far enough – and that goal has clearly breathed new life into Fulham’s survival fight.
With Diarra’s injury record, it is dangerous to wax too lyrical about a single performance, but his return to the first team is so welcome. An intelligent passer who does the simple things so well, he is proof of that old adage about form being temporary and class proving permanent.
Fulham have re-signed Mali captain Mahamadou Diarra until the end of the Premier League season.
Diarra has not played for Fulham since December 2012 due to a serious knee injury.
The 32-year-old’s contract expired in the summer but he has been training with the club in a bid to prove his fitness.
Cottagers boss Felix Magath, who replaced Rene Meulensteen last month, has been impressed enough to offer the midfielder a short-term deal as he attempts to keep the club in the top-flight.
“The club is delighted to announce that Mahamadou Diarra has rejoined Fulham on a deal that will run until the end of the 2013/14 season,” a statement read on Fulham’s official website.
“The 32-year-old was out of action for a sustained period after struggling with a knee injury, but worked relentlessly to regain full fitness. Diarra’s short-term contract with Fulham will see his remuneration based on the number of appearances he makes for the First Team.
“The former Real Madrid midfielder initially joined the Whites on a free transfer in February 2012 and he went on to make 19 appearances for the club, scoring once.”
With just seven games remaining, Fulham are four points from safety and face Champions League-chasing Everton at Craven Cottage on Sunday before taking on Aston Villa and Norwich.
Fulham are considering offering a pay-as-you-play deal to Mahamadou Diarra.
The Mali midfielder hasn’t featured for the first team since December last year due to a serious knee injury.
Diarra’s contract expired in the summer, but he has been training at Motspur Park in a bid to prove his fitness to manager Martin Jol.
The 32-year-old made a successful return from injury for Fulham’s under-21s against Reading last month.
And the Whites are weighing up whether to offer an appearance-based deal to the former Real Madrid star.
Boss Jol said: “I don’t think he will ever be the player he was when he started at Lyon. That was 100 per cent.
“I felt he wasn’t 100 per cent before but he was so influential with his passing and in the dressing room.
“We told him play three matches and then we will make an assessment.
“There are different scenarios like getting players and pay them when they play.
“But first we need clearance from the medical staff and his surgeon in Madrid to say he is fit.”
Midfielder Mahamadou Diarra made a successful return from injury in an internal game at Fulham’s training ground on Wednesday.
The Mali star is trying to prove his fitness to boss Martin Jol following eight months out with a knee injury.
Diarra is a free agent after his contract expired in June, but is back in full training and closing in on a return to full fitness.
The former Real Madrid ace stepped up his recovery with a 60-minute run-out at the club’s Motspur Park base on Wednesday.
Diarra was handed a further boost last night when Fulham submitted their 25-man squad to the Premier League, with one spot still remaining should Jol decide to re-sign the 32-year-old.