Lassana Diarra: Talentspotter

Anzhi midfielder Lassana Diarra, formerly of Arsenal, Portsmouth and Chelsea, speaks to FourFourTwo back in 2006 while still on the Blues' books.

Dia. Like many football players, it's a shortened version of my surname. It's not particularly inspiring, but if that's what people want to call me, who am I to argue?

Team supported
Although I'm from Paris, the glamour of Olympique Marseille appealed to me. When I started to understand and appreciate football, they were the biggest team in Europe, winning the European Cup in 1993. As a kid, you always want to associate yourself with the biggest teams, the winning teams.

I'm hard-working and I like to think I have good ball skills when I'm under pressure.

As I'm sure most young players are quick to recognise, I can improve on all aspects of my game, but heading, in particular, needs some attention.

If I'm being totally honest, I didn't live and breathe football when I was a small boy, so never found myself influenced by footballers. In fact, my heroes were Batman and Superman! In footballing terms, I suppose the French World Cup winners of 1998 are heroes to us all.

My transfer to Chelsea in the summer. I was spotted by Gwyn Williams playing for France in the Toulon Under-20 tournament and initially came on trial. Making my debut, in the 4-0 win against Real Betis in the Champions League, was a special moment.

I stopped playing football at 16 because my first club, Nantes, said I was too small. It was a tough time and when I did get back to playing, my next club‚ Le Mans‚ didn't seem to care about me and I quit. I was then barred from playing for bureaucratic reasons and I thought my career might be over.

Best player played with
Claude Makelele - he is my inspiration at Chelsea. I model my game on him and when we are on opposing sides during training, it can be quite a tough encounter.

Toughest opponent
When I played against Betis, Joaquin was an exceptional talent. He had tremendous technical ability and his movement made him difficult to track. Edu was also a player who stood out for them on the night.

Biggest practical joker
Shaun Wright-Phillips. He's always on the go and clowning about, which says a lot for his personality because he's only been at the club since the summer. He seems to have a good rapport with everyone.

Best thing about London
I love living in a city that is so cosmopolitan and exciting. There is always something to do in your spare time.

Worst thing about London
Definitely the traffic jams. Whatever day of the week, you can guarantee there will be jams in central London!

Away from football I...
Spend my time learning English. My command of the language is not fluent yet, but I have two lessons a week and it's improving. The words I learn on the training ground, I can't repeat in the classroom!

The last CD I bought was from a French rapper called Booba. He's unknown over here, but his Pantheon CD is very big in France.

I'm driving about in a Mini Cooper S at the moment. Ideal for the London traffic!

I've been a big fan of Beyonce since her days with Destiny's Child.

Love And Basketball. It's an emotive story about a couple who grow up together with the dream of playing in the NBA.

Holiday destination
Mali. It is the homeland of my parents and I feel a special affinity with the country. While I am proud to be French and represent the country of my birth, it's only natural for me to have special feelings towards Mali.

I love music, so MTV Base is often on in my home. I quite like Alias on Sky One as well.

Most embarrassing moment
Finding myself out of work when I left Nantes. I was disillusioned with football but didn't have a career plan in mind. I was unemployed and my life had reached the crossroads. Fortunately I turned back to football.

If I hadn't been a footballer...
I'd probably have become a salesman in some capacity. I converse easily with people and so I'd have used my communication skills in some way.

Describe yourself in five words
Determined, loyal, ambitious and gentle. Is that five?

In five years I'll be...
Better than I am at the moment!

From the February 2006 issue of FourFourTwo.

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