'I am ready to give my all for Newcastle' - Diame

Newcastle United's Mohamed Diame BackpagePix

Mohamed Diame has become a household name in recent years after successful spells in France, Spain, and the English Premier League with various clubs, but he endured a difficult season with Newcastle this year.

The former Senegal international's debut campaign with the Magpies was perhaps the biggest challenge of his career, despite their eventual promotion to the top-flight. The midfielder has felt the effects of the hectic fixture schedule and he attributes this to his slightly below-par performances in 2016-17.

"Deciding to come to Newcastle was easy; it's a huge club with a great manager," he tells KweséESPN. "Collectively, I'm happy with the season. The target was to be champions and we achieved that, so of course I am happy.

"Personally, though, I am a little bit disappointed. I didn't play the way I wanted to. I wanted to make the fans happy, but my body just wasn't ready for two consecutive seasons in the Championship. Games every two days was difficult [to cope with] and I wasn't used to it.

"I feel it's a purely physical reason for underachieving because everything else was in place to succeed: Great teammates to help me shine, a massive stadium full of amazing fans. I really struggled physically to push myself.

"I want to use this summer to make sure I am ready to give my all for Newcastle next season. My head is with this club and I want to be here and play in the Premier League."

But you never know what's around the corner in football. The element of the unexpected is something he is no stranger to considering big-money moves to Arsenal, in 2013, and Liverpool had previously looked promising, only to break down suddenly.

"The Arsenal links were true, but nothing came of it and I'm not sure why," he says. "I wanted to go there, for me it was a big move, but God decided it was not the way.

"The same happened with Liverpool when I left Wigan [in 2012]. They almost took me on a free transfer; I even went to the training ground, met Kenny Dalglish and a move was very close. I thought it was done! We discussed pre-season and everything, but shortly after they sacked Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers came in."

He is still enthusiastic about where he finds himself today though, saying: "The atmosphere created by the Newcastle fans is the biggest difference to the other clubs I've played at.

"They are always there, home and away, even for cup games against lower teams the stadium is full. West Ham is a massive club too, but the Newcastle fans are something different."

The former Senegal star says he learned as a child to use all his experiences, both high and low, to grow his career.

"Street football is how I started, from around five years old. Every little experience I picked up as a child has helped me become the player I am today. Even small things like going to the park with my dad helped me to develop as a footballer," he reflects.

"Creteil, where I grew up, had a good team and the French culture helped me. I often think about the managers and coaches I had when I was young because these people are all part of my success," he adds.

Hungry for that success, Diame made the bold decision to move to Spain at a young age, before joining Wigan in 2009. Since then he has made his home in England, and there is no doubting his affection for the country.

"English culture is so organised and the fans are unbelievable here. The people are crazy about following the Premier League. This country and league is, for me, the best in the world. Even given the choice to move to other leagues again, I would definitely choose to stay here. It's the place to be."

Still only 29, Diame's decision to retire from international football in March this year surprised many. He is clearly proud of his Senegalese heritage, but says he had to take action to get the best from his body.

"Since I picked up an injury at Hull, I struggled to get back to my top level. All the international breaks, going away, it didn't help me get back to the top. I was under-performing with both club and country, and I had to make a choice," he explains.

African football has become somewhat notorious for financial issues within federations, which have limited many nations so severely. While Diame accepts this is the case, he is adamant that it did not contribute to his decision to retire.

"I stopped internationals for a physical reason alone. Yes, I experienced a lack of professionalism and organisation when playing for Senegal and it can give you a headache, but it's part of African football and it is hard to say exactly why it is like that.

"There are people who are trying to improve these things but such problems have existed for a long time. Hopefully someone succeeds in changing it, but at the moment you have to just accept it if you want to be an African international player."

It is also interesting that he chose to represent his nation of heritage in the first place, with so many African talents opting to don the colours of the European countries in which they were raised.

He doesn't find it odd though: "My heritage is Senegalese and [much of] my family are still there. Yes, I was in Clairefontaine and learned a lot of things from France, but I am Senegalese.

"My father's dream was to see me in the Senegalese shirt. Growing up, watching France win World Cups, watching [Zinedine] Zidane, of course you think about yourself in that shirt. But when you get older you just know you have to play for your country and make them proud."