A long list of footballers down the years have paid the price for moving abroad too young, and many have never recovered after their dreams turned sour. Alou Diarra could well have joined their number after leaving French Ligue 2 outfit Louhans-Cuiseaux at 19 for Bayern Munich, where he failed to make a single appearance in two years due to stiff competition for places and sheer inexperience. Diarra then suffered the same fate at Liverpool, having signed for Gerard Houllier in 2002. Instead of being given the chance to shine in the club’s famous red shirt he was farmed out on successive loan stints to Le Havre, Bastia and Lens. Many players would have been crushed by that string of disappointments, but Diarra simply developed the determination and hunger that have since made him such an effective holding midfielder.
After carving out a starting berth for himself at Lens, he signed for Lyon in 2006 as the then French champions set out to replace namesake Mahamadou Diarra, who had joined Real Madrid. By that point Alou had already become a France international with regular appearances as back-up to Patrick Vieira during the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, and he also came on for his illustrious senior team-mate as Les Bleus lost the Final to Italy in Berlin.
Diarra spent just one year at Lyon before falling out with Gones' coach Houllier, and departing the Stade de Gerland for Bordeaux with a Ligue 1 winner’s medal in his luggage. If he had harboured any doubts about his decision, they were quickly dispelled as he laid claim to a starting berth in front of the Bordeaux defence, a role that earned him the nickname ‘The Sentinel’. Another league title followed in 2009, after the club had finished runners-up the year before. Girondins' coach Laurent Blanc then rewarded him with the captain’s armband for the 2009/10 campaign.