The day the Premier League missed out on a Pompey great

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As the giddy deadline-day glitterball cranked up its revolutions there was one notable absentee.

Overlooked through the blinding light and accompanying ticker-tape downpour, the transfer window carnival had waltzed right on by.

No time for QPR fans to pause to digest their loss, Harry Redknapp’s procession of signings were continuing to prove an enchanting sight.

There were the arrivals of Niko Kranjcar and Sandro, while Jermain Defoe teased and Fabio Borini emerged, blinked and ran off home to Liverpool.

And there was Lassana Diarra.

Here was an early casualty of that breathless Monday, despite it being a ‘done deal’ according to several national newspapers in the days preceding.

The truth is, upon the deal’s low-profile demise, perhaps Pompey fans were more disappointed than the distracted Loftus Road faithful.

After all, Diarra is regarded by many as the greatest modern-day player to have represented the Blues.

Moreover, it has been the Premier League’s immense loss that it is five years, eight months and 18 days since it last staged his majestic talents.

The most recent occasion the top flight of English football glimpsed Diarra was as a 63rd-minute substitute at Bolton.

Pompey followers knew it was a farewell, such was the strength of expectation surrounding a potential January transfer window departure.

An ankle injury sustained at Upton Park robbed the Blues of his services for the previous seven matches, sidelining him for fixtures against AC Milan and Wolfsburg.

Suddenly Diarra was back in the squad among the substitutes at the Reebok Stadium, as it was then referred to, on December 20, 2008.

And having come on to replace Richard Hughes in a 2-1 defeat for Tony Adams’ side, his time at the club was effectively over.

On January 1, 2009, Real Madrid completed a deal worth around £19m.

The Frenchman had spent less than a year at Fratton Park, recording only 32 appearances and three goals, but left an indelible mark on supporters.

How those of us privileged to have watched Diarra in action would dearly relish another opportunity to again observe such wondrous talents, albeit from our lounge sofa.

This was the player who inspired Pompey to their best top-flight finish for half a century as Redknapp’s men marched into eighth spot.

He was the true man-of-the-match in the 2008 FA Cup final triumph, eclipsing Kanu who was instead bestowed with the honour.

It was the former Chelsea player who netted the club’s first-ever goal in European competition, scoring in the 2-0 home success over Vitoria Guimaraes in the Uefa Cup.

And it was Diarra who illustrated the perfect characteristics of the complete modern-day midfielder with the natural ability to run, pass, tackle and create in equal measures.

Fittingly, his departure attracted the biggest transfer fee in Pompey’s history.

Diarra had arrived the previous January from Arsenal for £5.5m in a three-and-a-half year deal on wages, which catapulted him towards the summit of Blues’ top earners.

According to boss Redknapp, Newcastle, Manchester City and Aston Villa were also chasing the ex-Le Havre performer, yet it was the south coast which lured him.

Looking back at his January 19, 2008, debut against Derby, it was a 17-minute hat-trick from Benjani which stole the show.

Thankfully, my ratings in The News for the 3-1 victory awarded Diarra an eight accompanied by the comment ‘looks a class act’.

In terms of the media, Diarra gave the obligatory press conference upon signing, in addition to being pictured hoisting aloft the Pompey shirt. Yet never again did he grant another interview to the local press.

Along with Pedro Mendes, they were the sole members of Redknapp’s squad to decline media approaches in the build-up to the 2008 FA Cup final.

With Diarra, that intention to dodge the limelight succeeded in adding to the aura of a player blessed with a talent so prodigious it would leave the Fratton faithful with mouths agape.

Behind the scenes people paint the picture of a quiet, polite, friendly and highly-focused individual driven by an overriding desire to better himself.

Although not a loner, Diarra is depicted as somebody preferring to stand back, rarely entering the dressing room chat and often engrossed in a book on lengthy away trips.

His English was passable, and certainly not an problem, while he relocated to the Hampshire area by renting a house in Hamble.

In an era when Surrey and the London areas were highly-popular places to live among the majority of Pompey’s playing squad, Diarra’s choice in itself was refreshing.

Nonetheless, he is spoken of fondly as an excellent professional, comfortable to manage and willing to give his all at training sessions.

Those around him, though, long had the overpowering sense the Blues was always regarded as a stepping stone by a player who had frustratingly struggled for matches at Chelsea and Arsenal.

Diarra never saw his long-term future at Fratton Park, not that anybody could possibly begrudge such a mind-set from an individual whose ability, in truth, warranted so much more.

Then came Real Madrid, what a magnificent stage for such a worthy individual.

In the ensuing years, Anzhi Makhachkala and currently Lokomotiv Moscow have also been his clubs, while not since 2010 has he added to his 28 international caps.

Now aged 29, perhaps he should have achieved so much more.

Then again, few can claim to be regarded by so many as Pompey’s greatest-ever modern-day footballer.

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