Lassana Diarra history makes United move unlikely, China deal possible
Lassana Diarra -- the former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid midfielder -- has been linked with moves to Premier League giants Manchester United and the Chinese Super League in the January transfer window.
The 31-year-old, currently at Marseille in the French Ligue 1, could be the ideal man to replace Morgan Schneiderlin at Old Trafford. But, given that he has a rocky past with United boss Jose Mourinho and the riches on offer in China offering the chance to settle a huge €10 million he owes to a former club, could a move to Asia be the more likely option?
ESPN FC correspondents look back on Diarra's once-promising career amid the latest reports regarding his future.
CHELSEA (Liam Twomey, Chelsea correspondent)
Saddled by expectations arising from his billing as "the new Claude Makelele" at a time when the original was still at Stamford Bridge and operating close to the peak of his powers, Lassana Diarra never really had a chance to make it big at Chelsea.
All in all he made just 31 appearances in all competitions over his two-year spell at Stamford Bridge. Makelele's presence and Chelsea's midfield strength ensured that many of these came at right-back, where Diarra's tenacity and dynamism helped him perform solidly but did little to aid his development in his favoured position.
Arriving at Chelsea from Le Havre in the summer of 2005, Diarra was voted the club's Young Player of the Year in his first season but quickly became disillusioned with a lack of opportunities in his second, despite starting in a 2-1 League Cup final win over Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium.
There was no desire at Chelsea to sell Diarra, particularly with Makelele getting older, but the youngster entered the final year of his contract adamant that he would not sign an extension, and the Blues were ultimately forced to sell him to rivals Arsenal in August 2007.
ARSENAL (Mattias Karen, Arsenal correspondent)
Diarra arrived at Arsenal facing high expectations, but quickly became frustrated after failing to lock down a place in the team. Having joined from Chelsea on deadline day in August 2007, he didn't make his first Premier League start until November that year.
With Mathieu Flamini, Denilson, Gilberto Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song all ahead of him in midfield, he seemingly angered Arsene Wenger by making his frustrations public and accusing the Arsenal boss of not keeping his promises. He left the club for Portsmouth in January having made just nine starts and later blasted Wenger for his approach to management.
"I didn't learn anything from Wenger," Diarra said in 2009. "All he taught me was how to doubt myself, how to doubt everything. Wenger never said a word to me until the day I left. He spoke to the others but not with me."
REAL MADRID (Dermot Corrigan, Madrid correspondent)
During his time at Real Madrid, Diarra did not convince fans, pundits and even teammates at the Bernabeu of his worth. But he did gain notoriety as one of the few players unafraid to openly challenge Jose Mourinho's authority during the Portuguese's time in charge.
Known as "Lass" in Spain, Diarra was again hailed as the "latest new Makelele" when he joined from Portsmouth for €20m in January 2009. He played regularly in his first 18 months under coaches Juande Ramos and Manuel Pellegrini, though without ever being seen as a key member of the squad.
From Mourinho's arrival in summer 2010 there were personality differences, with the Frenchman losing the No. 10 jersey to Mesut Ozil and often being linked with moves away from the Bernabeu. Some local journalists delighted in reporting on how Lass questioned his manager's tactical acumen and refused to unquestioningly follow orders from the coaching staff.
Although Mourinho at times appeared to respect Diarra for openly speaking his mind, it was little surprise when he left for Anzhi Makhachkala in summer 2013.
MARSEILLE (Ian Holyman, France correspondent)
Diarra was brought back in from the footballing wilderness, following spells at Anzhi and Lokomotiv Moscow, when he signed for Marseille in summer 2015.
His stuttering career was revitalised at the Stade Velodrome as he earned a place in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year and a recall to the France side after a five-year absence. Only a knee injury prevented him from crowning his comeback campaign with a place in France's Euro 2016 squad.
Steve Mandanda's summer departure to Crystal Palace meant Diarra was even handed the captain's armband this season, but his preoccupation since then has been a fine he has to pay to Lokomotiv for breach of contract.
It's hardly just a parking ticket or speeding fine, so you perhaps cannot blame Diarra for being knocked out of his stride by the €10m he owes his former employers after his appeal was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in May. He reportedly sought a club who would pay the sum for him last summer, but OM would not sell.
The first half of this season has been troubled, to say the least. He made just 10 Ligue 1 appearances, missed matches through a mystery injury, and has seen Bafetimbi Gomis replace him as captain while he headed into Christmas as a luxury substitute. L'Equipe even reported on Wednesday he could be used as a makeweight in a deal with West Ham United to bring Dimitri Payet back to the club
With this financial penalty weighing heavy, China rather than England looks like being Diarra's most likely destination.
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