Diarra was a Pompey star – but difficult to handle

Niko Kranjcar. Picture: Joe Gidden/ PA Images

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He’s regarded as one of Pompey’s greatest modern-day players and was the star of the 2008 FA Cup-winning team.

But Harry Redknapp has revealed how he found Lassana Diarra difficult to manage after recruiting him to Fratton Park.

Lassana Diarra with Harry Redknapp after the midfielder signed for Pompey in January 2008. Picture: Robin Jones

Lassana Diarra with Harry Redknapp after the midfielder signed for Pompey in January 2008. Picture: Robin Jones

The talented Diarra arrived from Arsenal in a £5m switch in January 2008, swiftly making a massive impression.

A year later he departed for Real Madrid in a Blues club-record £20m deal, following a memorable 32 appearances and three goals.

Redknapp considers the France international as one of his greatest signings – but admits he could be testing.

The ex-Pompey boss told The News: ‘Diarra was an amazing player. How we got him I’ll never know.

He definitely meant what he said. If his agent didn’t get paid he was going to down tools, a very strong-willed boy

Harry Redknapp

‘But he was hard work, a strong character, if he didn’t like something then he wasn’t easy to deal with.

‘I liked him, a good lad and a good pro, but very strong minded. He walked out of Chelsea to join Arsenal after telling Jose Mourinho he was going, he wouldn’t stay.

‘Once he made up his mind to do something, he was always going to do it.

‘He wasn’t easy to handle, though, one of them you had to keep on side, really. If you had a fall out with him it could finish quickly.

Lassana Diarra and Pedro Mendes parade the FA Cup.  Picture: Will Caddy

Lassana Diarra and Pedro Mendes parade the FA Cup. Picture: Will Caddy

‘There was a problem one time when his agent hadn’t been paid, somebody who had looked after him since he was a little boy.

‘Diarra told us unless it was sorted he wouldn’t play on the Saturday.

‘He was dealing with Sacha and Peter Storrie and thankfully they sorted it out.

‘He definitely meant what he said, if his agent didn’t get paid he was going to down tools, a very strong-willed boy.

‘I remember when he was at Arsenal, he played in a 3-2 win at Blackburn in the League Cup, man of the match, only to be left out of the squad against Spurs in the Premier League the next Saturday.

‘Behind the scenes, we had been talking to him. His agent asked if we would want him, I said of course, there was a buy-out clause of £5m, which was crazy.

‘Suddenly he had been left out of the team and went to see Arsene Wenger, telling him he wanted to leave. Wenger replied: “No problem if you want to go, you don’t want to play for Arsenal”.

‘When Diarra said “Okay, I’m going then”, Wenger panicked and pulled him back in saying “I didn’t mean that, I want you to stay”. It was too late, Diarra had made up his mind – and joined us.

‘To get him for that money was a crazy deal.’

These days, Diarra features for PSG, who this season recaptured the Ligue 1 title from Monaco.

Now aged 33, he has endured a nomadic career since leaving Real Madrid in August 2012, also representing Anzhi Makhachkala, Lokomotiv Moscow, Marseille and Al Jazira.

Redknapp added: ‘He had everything as a player. I remember Frank Lampard told me he used to hate playing against Diarra in training at Chelsea.

‘His fourth match for us was a 1-1 draw with Chelsea and he was on a different level, he ran the game and was the best player on the pitch by miles.

‘You are thinking “How did we get him here, it’s incredible”.’

Our interview with Harry Redknapp is part of our build-up to the 10th anniversary of Pompey’s FA Cup triumph.

Keep checking portsmouth.co.uk throughout the week to read more stories, while there will be a 16-page supplement in Thursday’s News.