Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira couldn’t have chosen a better moment to unveil all their big signings for the 2017-18 season.
It came at a time when they have sealed a place in the high-profile FIFA Club World Cup following the loss of arch rivals Al Ain to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the AFC Champions League.
Al Jazira, being the winners of the top notch tournament in the UAE — Arabian Gulf League, booked the slot reserved for the host nation.
Yesterday, they presented French midfielder Lassana Diarra, Uzbek winger Sardor Rashidov, UAE’s mercurial forward Ahmad Khalil, Brazilian striker Romarinho and former Shabab defender Mohammad Ali Ayed in front of the media.
And as Jazira start their Arabian Gulf League title defence on Friday against Ajman, the team think-tank, and coach Henk ten Cate will be looking to chalk out a perfect roadmap for the players to match the likes of giant killers Real Madrid, come December.
“If you ask me I will like to take it step-by-step. It is good for Al Jazira to qualify for Club World Cup, but we have to take it one step at a time. That tournament is still a few months away and we have to build a team for that slowly,” said Diarra, who has the experience of playing with some of the top clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid from 2009 to 2012 and winning the La Liga and Supercopa title with them.
The 32-year-old, known for his outstanding defensive midfield role has also featured for Chelsea, Arsenal, Portsmouth along with Russian clubs Anzhi Makhachkala and Lokomotiv Moscow. The maiden Middle East venture materialised following the inputs he received from Al Ain’s Ebrahim Diaky, revealed Diarra.
“I have some friend who used to play here and I have been here a couple of times. I’m also friends with Ivorian Ebrahim Diaky so I have seen some matches here and was in touch with a few people from this club. This year, I felt it was the right time to make the move,” said Diarra, who in 2016 was named Marseille’s new captain, replacing Steve Mandanda. However, following Rudi García’s appointment as the new Marseille manager in October, Diarra’s commitment to the club came under the scanner and he was later stripped of his captaincy. Having made only 11 league appearances for the season, Diarra was released by Marseille in February this year.
While most would feel that his switch to Al Jazira is a step backward, Diarra begs to differ and said, “I think I have travelled to a lot of different countries and today I have reached a stage in my career when I can decide on doing something else. I would say that brought me here to the Middle East.”
Diarra went on to add that he sees himself more closer to the end than the beginning of his career and hence it was imperative to make such a move.
“At this age, I have come to a team that has been the champion here last season. It will be a good challenge for me and I have to be realistic at this age. I have played for the best teams in France, England, Spain and Italy. I just want to add something to this team and see how it goes for me here,” said Diarra, who revealed that he was in the best of shape and very much raring to go.
“Everything has gone well so far. The league will start now and we have to perform. The level is good here and the weather is hot. I would like to put the best foot forward in the opening match which is always vital. I feel the same excitement that I have always had while playing for a new club,” said Diarra.