The news that Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra was the latest player to move to Russia in search of riches, completing a four-year deal to sign for Anzhi Makhachkala, will have come as a surprise to many and will go down as a missed opportunity for some in the top flight.
After finding his first-team opportunities limited at the Santiago Bernabeu this term, even more so given the arrival of former Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric, it was clear for all to see that a deal could be done for the 27-year-old enforcer, bringing and end to a four-year spell with the current La Liga champions.
Having struggled to remove Sami Khedira from the spot alongside the hugely influential Xabi Alonso last term, Jose Mourinho toyed with the idea of converting Diarra into a right-back to add competition to a fairly problematic position for the Portuguese boss, with only Alvaro Arbeloa used there for most of last term, with Sergio Ramoes often utilised in the centre, but the Frenchman is thought to have turned down the offer of a new positional lease of life, paving the way for a Premier League club to swoop, or so we thought.
Former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp had Diarra on his wish-list last summer, but his large wages proved a stumbling block during any negotiations and they club opted for the cheaper alternative of Scott Parker instead. However, a year on, with Parker sidelined through injury, Huddlestone and Jenas on the scrapheap and the inexperienced and somewhat limited Jake Livermore starting regularly, there was certainly a spot open in the club’s starting line-up.
Sandro remains a brute force of nature in the middle of the park, but his lack of positional discipline and occasionally wayward passing still cause concern and the club did move for the far more expensive Yann M’Vila, albeit briefly, instead for a time, until his £15m valuation ended any chance of a move. Real Madrid’s willingness to do a deal and shift on Diarra would have seen a player with proven Premier League experience available for half that price.
At Portsmouth, Diarra showed that he was technically proficient, particularly for a holding midfielder, in possession of a subtle, yet superb range of passing, combined with a tactical awareness that saw him slot comfortably into a better quality side at Real Madrid rather seamlessly and he has an international pedigree.
Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote has shown that the role of the rampaging, energetic holding midfielder is far from at an end in the top flight, even if it has been reduced in recent times and there’s more to Diarra than the Ivory Coast international in terms of what he’s capable of when he’s on the ball. Had he not burned his bridges with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal quite so expertly, he could have proven the perfect replacement for Alex Song.
Liverpool are a club well stocked in the middle of the park, with both Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin arriving this summer, but with Lucas Leiva yet again ruled out for a prolonged spell through injury, they lack that crucial bite in the middle and just in front of the back four, which was cruelly exposed by Arsenal at the weekend, as Abou Diaby repeatedly just ran right through the middle of the side without being challenged.
Over at Chelsea, while Oriol Romeu may be a bright prospect, Frank Lampard, in a more reserved role is entering the twilight of his career and doubts still nag over John Obi Mikel’s effectiveness against top-class opposition. Ramires is better used in a more forward role, and they could have perhaps have done with Diarra too, even if another striker was more of a priority. With Raul Meireles having just moved to Fenerbache, they are now a man light in midfield and you suspect the player would have relished a return to Stamford Bridge.
However, the main contender for the perfect fit in the top flight would have to be Manchester United and he’s often been a name on the lips of many fans for quite some time. The club have never truly replaced Owen Hargeaves properly, even five years on, and he would have added some much-needed urgency to a sometimes passive midfield.
Michael Carrick is often excellent at dictating the tempo, but it’s the club’s continued over-reliance on Paul Scholes, a man who helped wrestle back control of the game against Southampton, that is the biggest worry. Both Tom Cleverley and Anderson appear to lack clearly defined roles in the side and their positional awareness can leave a lot to be desired at times and Diarra would have helped add some leadership to a sometimes rudderless ship.
The temptation to move to Russia is obvious; Diarra will be rewarded for playing in the cultural backwater that is Anzhi with a wage bump if anything, as he moves on a permanent deal as opposed to the previously widely-assumed season-long loan. Building from the back is an integral component to any top side and providing a platform for the more creative players in your side to perform to the best of their abilities is just as crucial, which is where Diarra excels.
The majority of the top eight in the Premier League, perhaps only Manchester City aside now, are in dire need of a player capable of patrolling just in front of the back four and breaking up play and their reluctance to invest in someone of that ilk, particularly for Arsenal and Manchester United fans, continues to puzzle; letting Diarra slip through the net so easily this transfer window is equally as baffling.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1