BY ALESSANDRO SCHIAVONE
Former Charlton Athletic defender Rod Fanni revealed that compatriot Alou Diarra was a decisive factor in his decision to join the Addicks in February 2016.
Charlton’s Championship status was hanging by a thread with the club rooted in the bottom three when the former French international put pen to paper on a six-month loan deal from Al Arabi.
And the signing of Fanni, who won five caps with France between 2008 and 2010, was nothing short of a sensation particularly as he had been on the radar of several Premier League clubs only a couple of years before.
Despite the scrap at the wrong end of the table and the survival odds being firmly stacked against Charlton, Fanni eventually took the plunge.
Now four years on since his move to South London, the 38-year old central defender made a startling admission claiming that the transfer would not have come to fruition if it had not been for Diarra’s powers of persuasion.
He said: “The decision wasn’t a straightforward one and Alou was instrumental in me going to London because he told me the club was desperate to bring in an experienced player like me in a bid to stay in the Championship.
“Already before I joined he was constantly praising the club, telling me how happy he was in London in a club he really adored and described as ‘friendly and amicable’.
“He promised me that if I joined Charlton I would not rue the decision as it would be a great experience for me.
“So, after carefully listening to what he had to say, I mulled a few days over the pros and cons before I decided to put pen to paper. In hindsight, I believe I wouldn’t have joined Charlton if it wasn’t for his presence and his words.”
Charlton could play the London card and Fanni admitted that the British capital was another decisive factor in him coming to The Valley to offer his helping hand to a decimated side.
“It was very complicated at (Qatar side) Al Arabi, the club was in turmoil on and off the pitch.
“So when the opportunity arose and Charlton knocked on my door asking me if I could come and help I took it after thinking it through.
“The project was enticing and I had always wanted an experience in London and in English football. I was at a crossroads in my career and the fact Charlton were in a period of transition and needed help within the club to take the young players under my wing led to my decision to accept their offer at the time.”
It took him three weeks to find his way into the manager’s thinking and he eventually made his debut in a 4-3 home defeat against Reading, a game famously remembered for Yaya Sanogo’s hat-trick.
The Frenchman went on to make 14 appearances for the club for a total of 1,196 minutes, scoring once in the process.
He might arguably have gone out of fashion by the time he crossed the Channel, but if for some Charlton faithful he was Yesterday’s Man, for many Addicks fans he was still a dependable defender. Some saw the transfer as a huge statement of intent by the hierarchy.
Fanni was upbeat and hopeful of a dramatic escape when he walked into the Charlton dressing room for the first time.
Things did not go to plan as Charlton suffered relegation in mid-April but Fanni claimed that he still treasures the memories of his time in English football.
He said: “ I like the love for the ‘physical contact’ in England and the passion, the beautiful football they play and everything around the English game.
“The fans are deeply in love with the game, the stadiums are always packed and there is a huge respect all over the world for English football. The same can’t always be said about other leagues and other countries.”
The now Montreal Impact player has stood the test of time and is still getting excellent reviews in Major League Soccer in spite of the fact that he will turn 40 by the end of next year.
Fanni enjoyed his finest hours at French giants Olympique Marseille, where he spent six years over two different spells.
Given the rivalry with Paris Saint-Germain and his close bond with the Marseille supporters Fanni claimed that he would never have considered an offer from the French capital when he was in his prime.
He said: “No, never. No chance because Marseille is the club I supported growing up. I have great memories of OM and I will never forget the Champions League games against Manchester United and Arsenal. Marseille means a lot to me, so I could never have joined Paris.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who rejoined AC Milan last month, used to draw the ire of Fanni, and the pair repeatedly fell out when the French Classique between the country’s most successful clubs took centre stage.
He said: “I crossed Zlatan many times in Ligue 1 and it’s true: he is arrogant. But I think it’s only the image he wants to give of himself in public as I know many players who played with him in Paris who told me he is anything but cocky.
“Apparently he is like a big brother who rolls his sleeves up daily to help his team win games and who always protects his players. The ‘Ibrahimovic team-mate’ stands in stark contrast to the ‘Ibrahimovic opponent’.”
So would he bury the hatchet and shake his hand, in case he bumps into him in the street?
“Why not? Absolutely, no problem,” Fanni said with a beaming smile.