Lassana Diarra revealed long-term friend Ibrahim Diaky convinced him to join Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira.
The 34-times capped French international left French giants Marseille in the summer and was officially unveiled as a Jazira player yesterday – along with fellow summer signings Ahmed Khalil, Sardor Rashidov, Romarinho and Mohammed Ali Ayed.
A deal for the former Real Madrid, Arsenal and Chelsea anchorman was concluded very early on and Diarra admitted speaking with veteran former Pride of Abu Dhabi midfielder Diaky – now at fierce rivals Al Ain – had persuaded him to try something new in the UAE.
“I have some friends here who have played here for a long time and we have been in contact for many years, I come here on holiday too with my family a lot so I think it was the right to say ‘OK, let’s do it’,” said Parisian Diarra, 32, who is of Malian descent.
“Diaky, he told me. We are friends. He is from the Ivory Coast, I am from Mali, we’ve been friends a long time, since 2008 or 09. I come here sometimes to watch his games and that’s how I had contact with the club. I think this year was the right time to move.
“I’ve been travelling around a lot, different countries. Today I’m at an age where I can decide what I want to do and see something else.”
Pocket dynamo Diarra has often been as explosive off the field as much as he is on it during his career – with Jazira his ninth club.
He had been with Ligue 1 royalty Marseille for the last two seasons but he denied testing out the AGL was a step down for him.
“No. It’s like you say, I am more closer to the end than the beginning so this is where my age can help the team,” he said, having signed a one-year deal at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
“Last season the team were champions and I think it’s a good challenge for me. I have to be realistic. At my age I wanted to do something else.
“I was in France, England, Spain, Russia and now I want to find something else for me, my family. Then we will see what I’m going to do at the end of the year.”
Henk ten Cate’s side begin the defence of their league crown – a first in six seasons – at home against promoted Ajman tomorrow, and Diarra insists he has come here to extend the club’s success rather than ease into retirement.
“I think it will be a tough game, especially as it is the first game of the season,” he added.
“Last year we were champions so the expectations are higher and everyone will want to beat us, so it will be a big game.
“I think the eyes will be on the team (rather than me), I’ll just try to bring my qualities that I have to the team. I just have to be normal and do my best. I will try to add to the team.
“Everything’s been very good since I got here. Now the league starts and I want to perform. It’s my first game in this league. I would like to feel the atmosphere and I’m ready to start. I want to win and I want to play.”