Just over a year ago, Mohamed Diame made one of the biggest decisions of his career.
The midfielder, reluctantly, retired from international football to concentrate on his Newcastle United career.
I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s what I wanted to since the beginning, but unfortunately, it couldn’t happen, so now I’m trying to enjoy it a lot better.Mohamed Diame
At the time, Diame was struggling to make an impact in the Championship.
“I need to wake up, because I have been sleeping since I got here,” he said in November 2016.
More than a year on from his international retirement, the 30-year-old is one of the first names on Rafa Benitez’s teamsheet in the Premier League.
Diame – who was predominantly used as a No 10 last season – has prospered in a deeper role alongside Jonjo Shelvey.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” said Diame, signed from Hull City in the summer of 2016.
“It’s what I wanted to since the beginning, but, unfortunately, it couldn’t happen, so now I’m trying to enjoy it a lot better.
“I need to make sure that I stay at a high level.”
Has United’s three-week break has come at a bad time?
“Yes, definitely,” said Diame.
“When you’re in good form, you want to keep going, and the break can be a bad thing. It’s good to keep going and play game after game and training after training and keep the same attitude and the high fitness.”
Newcastle moved up to 13th place in the Premier League after their 3-0 win over Southampton the weekend before last.
Benitez’s side had beaten Manchester United on their previous home outing.
Next up are Huddersfield Town, also at home, on March 31.
“It’s going to be another final, like the game we won before,” said Diame.
“It’s going to be a massive game at home. Three points (is the aim), and that’s it.”
Benitez arranged a 135-minute friendly against Royal Antwerp in Spain at the weekend to top up his players’ fitness ahead of the international break. The game ended 1-1.
“It was a friendly game that we needed to keep the shape and keep this team in the same attitude and fitness,” said Diame.
“It was more for the fitness than anything, but it was important.
“I think that the Belgian team thought that they were going to play against an English team, so they said ‘we have to fight and make some tackles’, because when they watch the Premier League that it is, physically, a big battle, so they were prepared for that.
“It was good. I think that the attitude of the team was good.
“We were working all week in training. We were working hard, so it was just to get more minutes.
“After, we’ve got another week without a game, so we need to make sure everyone keeps their fitness high in training.”
Diame’s former Senegal team-mates, meanwhile, are preparing for the summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
There’s no going back for Diame. “I took my decision already,” he said. “I think the team is doing well. They did well to qualify.
“I wish them all the best. I’m going to follow them, and hope they go far.”