Rafa Benitez has explained how several NUFC fans got it wrong with Mo Diame, defending his use of the Senegalese star as a No 10 and central midfielder since his arrival £4.5m arrival from Hull almost two years ago.
As many will remember, Mo was played almost as a second striker for large parts of our season in the Championship.
This didn’t appear to suit Diame, with it becoming clear following his rise to form that he is much more suited to a deep-lying central midfield role – a position he’s played in most of his career.
Rafa clearly recognises this, however he has defended his use of the 30-year-old over the past two seasons, claiming he knew exactly what he was doing playing him as a number 10 in the Championship and central midfielder in the Premier League.
Here’s what he’s had to say about the midfielder, with the Spaniard sounding very keen to defend his actions over the past 18 months:
“It’s very funny what has happened with Diame and how some people have seen him since he’s been here,”
“When he was in Spain, playing for Rayo Vallecano, he was playing as a midfielder. So I knew that he is a midfielder.
“But then some of the fans said: ‘Oh, why does Rafa always play Diame as a second-striker?’ It’s because in the Championship, he did well as a second-striker [at both Hull and Newcastle] because his power was good, he was winning balls in the air, getting into the box, and all these things.
“Then when we were playing him as a second-striker, some people were always criticising him.
“Now we are playing him as a midfielder, and some people are saying: ‘Oh, Rafa, he didn’t realise that Diame was a midfielder, but he has realised now.’
“No. We knew already. When he was playing in Spain, we had seen how he played out there in that position.”
As Benitez explains above and below, it seems as though Diame was always seen as a second striker for the Championship (having scored 10 for Hull the season before in that role) and a midfielder in the Premier League.
Rafa insists here that he always saw him as a central midfielder ahead of our return to the top flight:
“We needed to manage our positions, and we knew Diame could do that [defensive role] for us,”
“This year, at the beginning of the summer when we decided the squad, Diame was one of the midfielders. So we were looking for a No 10 to compete in this position that we couldn’t find, but Diame was always a midfielder for us this season.
“The reason why Colback and Saivet were not in the squad at the beginning was because Diame was a midfielder.
“We knew what he could do and I’m really pleased because he is doing really, really well now.
“It’s just about competition. Hayden was a young player, coming in, improving and getting better. Now he has to compete against Diame – that is good.”
Diame didn’t look suited to the second striker role last season, but then again, we did get promoted – so it must’ve worked to an extent.
Regarding his ‘new’ role as a box to box midfielder this season, it seems Rafa was always sure he was capable of this – and that shouldn’t come as such a surprise to NUFC fans given how he took up this role during his time at Wigan and West Ham in Premier League years gone by.