For the first time in eight years, Cardiff are preparing for a season without the reliable Aron Gunnarsson as one of the first names on the teamsheet. Combined with the inevitable departure of Harry Arter following relegation, the Icelandic warrior’s exit leaves Neil Warnock with a huge hole in midfield suited to a combative anchorman.
It’s a role which couldn’t possibly be filled by Joe Ralls, Leandro Bacuna or forgotten man Loic Damour, but one which might just be tailor-made for fresh free agent Mohamed Diame.
Left off the retain list at Newcastle last week, Diame first arrived in the Premier League 10 years ago in a move from La Liga side Rayo Vallecano to Wigan, where he made his presence known as a powerful, striding box-to-box midfielder. Remaining in England ever since, he impressed enough during his time at the DW Stadium to become a regular for the Senegal national team before joining West Ham in their 2012 return to the Premier League.
While making more than 65 appearances in his first two seasons at Upton Park, he complained of being “shunted around” the pitch by then-Hammers boss Sam Allardyce and eventually left to play in his preferred central role at Hull City.
Having been ruled out for much of his first season with the Tigers through injury, Diame was forced to make a comeback in the Championship following relegation. Despite then helping his side to promotion with 10 goals (including a scorching Wembley winner in the Play-Off Final), he shocked fans by immediately dropping back down to the Championship to help Newcastle achieve the same yo-yo feat in 2016.
Recognising that his energy levels aren’t quite what they were as he enters the latter years of his career, Diame has gradually focused more on protecting the defence during his time at St. James’ Park. He averaged more tackles per game than any Cardiff player last season (the second consecutive season he’s finished in the top 20 for Premier League tackles) while only Aron Gunnarson achieved more defensive blocks.
With Warnock in need of some real steel in the spine of his team, as well as demonstrable experience in the Championship, it’s hard to deny that Diame fits the bill perfectly. Any move seems dependent on the length of stay on offer, though.
A clause in his Newcastle contract would have triggered a one-year extension had the former Senegal international started 25 league games last season but, in a similar scenario to that of Peter Whittingham two years ago, Diame wants stability through a two-year deal. Some fans are sure to be concerned knowing that a hypothetical move would keep him at the club until his 34th birthday, but Sol Bamba proves that age can mean nothing in the right conditions.
A reported £45,000-a-week salary on Tyneside will also raise a few eyebrows, and while the lack of a transfer fee would soften the blow at Cardiff’s end, he would be ignorant to expect a price match from any club outside of China or Qatar at the age of 32. That said, the Bluebirds are in a position where a bit of compromise on wages will be required if they’re to land anyone with the quality of Diame.