Lassana Diarra (born 10 March 1985), or simply Lass, is a French footballer of Malian descent, who plays for Lokomotiv Moscow. His predominant position is defensive midfielder but he can also play in a more advanced role and has played at right back, which he occasionally did for former club Chelsea, as well as France.
Lass was turned down by football clubs as a youngster. FC Nantes deemed him too “small and lightweight” to succeed at 170 cm and 58 kg (5’7″ and 9 stone). Lass admitted he thought his “football career was over”. His next stop was Le Mans UC, where Diarra claimed they “didn’t seem to care” about him Lass’s footballing career finally began at Le Havre, a former French top-flight football team. Outstanding in his defensive midfield role, his reputation started to grow and impressive performances saw his selection to the French U-21 squad. Along with the reputation came interest from other clubs, and Chelsea became potential suitors. With Chelsea’s Claude Makélélé not getting any younger, Chelsea’s wide network of scouts tagged Diarra as the “new Makélélé” and the club promptly paid £1 million for his services in July 2005.
Lass was in Chelsea‘s first team squad in the 2005–06 season, but did not get much first team football. His Chelsea debut came in the UEFA Champions League in October 2005, when he was given a brief run out as a substitute when Chelsea were 4–0 up against Real Betis. However, he was not expecting to come straight into the side. Learning from Makélélé, a master of his position, Lass improved throughout the season, showing impressively when playing for the reserve team. He played well against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup third round, winning rave reviews from both managers, teammates, and media sources. He became a bit part player in Chelsea’s first team and also completed the full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s last two games of the season at Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, as manager José Mourinho rotated his squad.
Diarra was named Chelsea’s young player of the season for 2005–06. Due to Chelsea’s defensive injury setbacks during the 2006–07 season, he was often asked to play at right back. He played full Premiership games against Blackburn Rovers, Charlton Athletic, and Middlesbrough, with some success, and also started in Chelsea’s win over Arsenal in the League Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. On 29 July, reports surfaced suggesting he could be on his way to Arsenal in pursuit of first-team football. His contract with Chelsea was due to expire in January 2008, and having made no move to extend it, Chelsea sold him to Arsenal on 31 August 2007, before he could leave on a free transfer.
On 31 August 2007, transfer deadline day, Lass signed for Arsenal for an undisclosed fee. He was given the number 8 shirt, vacated by the departure of winger Freddie Ljungberg. On his move across London, he cited Gunners manager Arsène Wenger as one of the main reasons for joining the club, along with the style of football played by Arsenal. Wenger had called the young Frenchman a “multi-functional player”, and a good addition to the squad. Diarra made his Arsenal debut as a late substitute in the home leg of the 2007–08 Champions League group stage match against Sevilla, and his full debut against Newcastle United in the third round of the League Cup. Lass started his first Premier League match for Arsenal against Aston Villa. With the emergence of defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini in the Arsenal side, Diarra saw only limited action in the early months of the season. Having expressed concerns that he was not playing enough first team football, Diarra signed for Portsmouth in January 2008 after only 5 months at Arsenal for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £5.5 million.
Diarra signed for Portsmouth on 17 January 2008. He was given his first start against Derby County, contributing to a 3–1 win at Fratton Park. He scored his first goal for the club in the following match, against FA Cup Fourth Round Championship opponents Plymouth Argyle, and his first Premier League goal two weeks later, a controversial late winner against Bolton Wanderers. Diarra went on to play in every minute of Portsmouth’s remaining FA Cup matches en route to claiming the trophy in the final. He topped the season by being included in the France squad for Euro 2008; this and the FA Cup win arguably vindicated his decision to part company with Arsenal, Diarra himself saying that it had “more than justified my decision.” He played in the 2008 Community Shield against Manchester United, missing in the penalty shoot out which was won by United. On 18 September 2008 he scored Pompey’s first ever goal in a major European competition against Vitória Guimarães, his third and final goal for the club. The first red card of Diarra’s Premier League career came on 28 September 2008 when he was booked twice against Tottenham Hotspur at Fratton Park.
On 17 December 2008, Portsmouth agreed a fee with Real Madrid for Diarra to join them on 1 January 2009 for a fee of around €20 million (£18.88 million), subject to a medical. and €20 million transfer was agreed five days later. He was assigned the number 6 shirt of Mahamadou Diarra for domestic competitions as the Malian midfielder was out with a season-ending injury and the vacant number 39 for the Champions League. He wore the name Lass on the back of his shirt to avoid confusion with Mahamadou. His transfer was officially completed on 1 January 2009, the opening of the transfer window. Madrid had planned to add both Diarra and fellow new signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to their 2008–09 Champions League squad, but both players had already featured in the same season’s UEFA Cup for previous clubs Portsmouth and Ajax, respectively. UEFA rules would allow only one of the pair to be registered by 1 February 2009 and eventually Diarra was selected to play in the competition.
Lass’s performance for Real Madrid in his first few months earned him a spot among the starting eleven on UEFA’s 2008–09 La Liga Breakthrough Team. The Madridista joined Sevilla’s Diego Perotti as the only foreigner on the list. According to the UEFA website, Lass “joined Real Madrid in the winter transfer window with a very low profile, although in a few short months he managed to convince the demanding Madridista fan base.”For the 2009–10 season Lass was assigned the number 10 shirt after Wesley Sneijder moved to Internazionale and Mahamadou Diarra came back from injury and reclaimed the number 6 shirt. Lass scored his first official goal for Madrid in the 2009–10 La Liga season opener against Deportivo de La Coruña, providing his side with their winning goal in a 3–2 victory. In August 2010, it was reported that Lass Diarra has been transfer listed by Real. However, José Mourinho included Lass Diarra in his starting lineup for the first game of the 2010/11 season. Because Madrid bought Sami Khedira, Diarra faced further competition to get into the squad. However, Mourinho stated Lass will not be leaving and said that he saw Lass as a starting player..