Rafa Benitez says that ‘Mohamed Diame is not a proper Number 10….’, which I think most Newcastle fans had pretty much worked out already.
In his first ever season of English football outside of the Premier League, he was used there by Hull City. His 10 goals being central to their promotion from the Championship in 2015/16.
Arriving at relegated Newcastle it was fair to imagine that he could once again replicate that at the lower level. However, he was woeful in any kind of an attacking sense, scoring only three and adding three assists – for Hull it was the 10 goals and four assists.
In fact, easily the best and most memorable moment for supporters, was the goal at Brighton which spun off his foot and past the keeper, with Mohamed Diame knowing nothing about it.
Despite Rafa Benitez saying that he always knew Diame was more of a holding midfielder if playing in the Premier League, he clearly wasn’t convinced.
It took until the 30 October 2017 for Diame’s first Premier League start of the season and that was only due to Merino’s back injury and the poor form of Hayden, the Senegalese midfielder (sometimes Number 10…) paired with Jonjo Shelvey in the 1-0 defeat, getting a game as a holding midfielder but looking very poor.
A month later until the next start and once again used as a central midfielder, Mohamed Diame didn’t impress in the 3-0 home loss to Watford or the 3-1 defeat at Chelsea.
Next appearance saw Rafa have yet another throw of the dice to try and halt a run of only one point from seven matches. Shelvey and Merino playing as holding midfielders and Diame returning to the role of Number 10, with Gayle the lone striker – a 1-0 defeat to Everton and another reminder that Diame certainly wasn’t a Number 10 at Premier League level.
The renaissance began with possibly Mohamed Diame realising he had to start and take more responsibility, due to an injury crisis which forced Rafa Benitez to pair Diame with Henri Saivet as an emergency central midfield pair in the crucial game at West Ham two days before Christmas.
An excellent 3-2 win, both midfielders scored, and Diame looked much much better.
Since that West Ham match, whilst neither Newcastle nor the Senegalese midfielder are anything like the finished article, things have massively improved for both.
Eight Premier League games later and only Manchester City have beaten Newcastle, with Mohamed Diame starting seven of them as a holding midfielder.
It used to be a running joke how often in the absence of Ashley buying players, Alan Pardew would announce that a mediocre ‘star’ returning from injury was ‘almost like a new signing’.
In the case of Mohamed Diame, compared to the little he has contributed previously, you could really say he is ‘like a new signing’ if he keeps the current form up. Looking Newcastle’s best midfielder (against pretty limited competition admittedly at the moment…) and also adding goals (at West Ham and Palace).
“I have been working hard to get back to the player I was at West Ham, Wigan and Hull.
“It has been difficult since I have been here but I think I am in a good way.
“I need to make sure I keep playing well week in, week out.
“I always say it is easier to be facing the game.
“When you play further forward, you are always facing your own goal and it is more difficult.
“We are dropping points at home and it is causing a lot of frustration.
“You can talk about a lot of things but it has happened again and again and it needs to stop because when we are playing at home it should be a fortress.
“When we are playing at home we need to get the points we need.”
Rafa Benitez explained:
“Mohamed Diame is not a proper Number 10 like some people think, a small one that can turn.
“He was a Number 10 (at Hull) and he did well, I think he scored nine goals (10 including the one he scored in the play-off final to take Hull into the Premier League).
“In the Premier League he is more a midfielder.
“When he was playing in Spain (at Rayo Vallecano) he was playing as a holding midfielder – I knew that.
“In this game (at Palace), we needed him there, and he did well because he knows the role.”