MO DIAME wants to prove to Newcastle fans that he’s up for the fight… and not just with the club’s captain.
Back in October, the Senegalese star traded blows with Jamaal Lascelles in training after the Toon skipper claimed he was not pulling his weight.
Diame, 30, jokes it was not quite "Mayweather and McGregor" – but such was his own standing with supporters then, Lascelles was applauded for starting a scrap with him.
Some sections of the Toon Army also turned on the midfielder during last month’s 1-0 home defeat to Everton, cheering when Rafa Benitez brought him off.
But 18 months after signing from Hull, Diame looks to have finally found his feet at Newcastle, starting and starring in recent wins at West Ham and Stoke.
And he has promised the Geordie faithful he is now edging back to his best – and can play a pivotal part in his side’s bid for safety.
Asked how he felt to get flak from his own fans against Everton, Diame told SunSport: “It was hard, but I’m 30 now so I’ve seen a lot of things and I’m ready for everything.
“I’ve just got to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
“And that’s by working hard and making sure that even if I’m not playing well, the fans feel that I am working for the team.
“I’ve got something to prove and I want to perform better for this team because since I’ve been here I haven’t played my best football.
“I know what I can give so I have been disappointed with what I have given to this club so far.
“It’s frustrating. After every game when you go home, you think a lot about situations you got on the pitch, and you think if you are at your best you don’t play like this.
“But I have been playing for a long time and you only need two games to feel good again.
“Now I feel fit, I feel good. It’s always easier when you have minutes and you play game after game.
“If you are playing one game, then dropped for three or four games, it is hard.
“But I’m sure I will get back and I will do my best to try and help the team achieve the target of staying up.”
To achieve their goal, Diame knows Newcastle will have to stick together.
But that’s one thing Benitez’s boys – unlike Toon teams in the recent past – are good at.
Proof came three months ago when Diame and Lascelles apologised for their bust-up – which left peacemaker Jonjo Shelvey with a broken hand – by taking their team-mates out for lunch.
And speaking about the incident for the first time, Diame explained: “When you hear about it, it’s as if we’d had a fight like Mayweather and McGregor, but it wasn’t like that.
“It was just an argument at training between me and Jamaal, but it was sorted 20 minutes after.
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“We spoke together, we spoke with all the squad and it was finished.
“Me and Jamaal hadn’t had any problems before, we can go on holidays together, he is my mate.
“It happens in teams. It is just part of the job. It can happen in an office with people.
“We decided to go for a team meal together as it was important to make sure everyone knew it was just a small incident.
“We cancelled our Christmas party because of bad results but we always try to find some moments to enjoy together.
“When you see our games against West Ham and Stoke, we were fighting together – and this is something we need to keep doing.”
The death of pal and former Toon team-mate Cheick Tiote last year helps Diame keep matters in perspective.
He was devastated when the Ivorian passed away aged just 30 having suffered a cardiac arrest in a training session with his Chinese club Beijing Enterprises.
Diame grew close with his fellow African during their six months together at Newcastle at the start of last season.
And he said: “It was a really sad moment. I had great times with him, he was like my brother, he would send me messages every day.
“Every time something happens like this to a football player you think it’s something crazy but this was really sad.”
It perhaps hit Diame even harder because he had a heart scare himself when he was at Lens aged 18.
A routine scan found a cardiac abnormality and the French club kept him sidelined for the season, before eventually releasing him.
Diame revealed: “It was something they saw, but it was something I was born with.
“When they told me I could not play, it was a difficult moment.
“At 13, when I was at the Clairefontaine academy in France, my dad passed away because of cancer and I was like the man in the house and football was a good way for me to look after my family.
“So when I got to Lens and they told me that maybe I’d have to stop football, of course I was worried.
“But since then, I’ve never had any worries and, touch wood, I’m OK.
“It’s never been a problem that impedes me to play football.
“It’s now been many years and I have been enjoying my football.”
Diame has enjoyed his football in England for the past nine of those years.
And given his previous clubs were Wigan, West Ham and Hull, battles at the bottom are nothing new to him.
Sitting on a sofa at the Toon’s training ground, Diame recalled: “At Wigan, for three seasons we played to stay up. It was hard but we always made it because we had this fighting spirit.
“I’ve got enough experience about staying up and I think at Newcastle we have everything to make it.”
From that experience, Diame knows it is vital the Toon beat the teams around them, starting with today’s rock-bottom opponents Swansea under their new manager, Carlos Carvalhal.
Diame has previous against Carvalhal, as it was his wonderstrike for Hull which sunk the Portuguese’s Sheffield Wednesday side in the 2016 Championship play-off final.
And he admitted: “That was just unbelievable for me. It was definitely one of my best moments.
“He is a good manager, but they are the kind of team we have to beat to make sure we keep them at the bottom.”
Despite his confidence in returning to his best form, Diame has rejected the chance to come out of international retirement and play in the World Cup.
Senegal boss Aliou Cisse called him recently and asked him to go to Russia.
But Diame, who quit playing for his country last March, added: “Before I took my original decision, I really thought about it. I spoke with my family and when I make a decision, I stick to it.
“I just felt it was the moment for me to stop because my body was really tired after two seasons in the Championship.
“I will support them, I am still in touch with them and I am their first fan but I will stay here.”
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