Real home in on £18m Diarra

Portsmouth midfielder's availability to play in Europe is key to Ramos's ambitions
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The Independent Football

The Portsmouth midfielder Lassana Diarra was last night on the verge of joining Real Madrid with Juande Ramos admitting he had seen enough of the 23-year-old France international to be convinced he would be a success at the Bernabeu. Manchester City are still keen on the former Arsenal and Chelsea player but the Spanish champions are confident they can finalise the £18m signing before they play Valencia at home on Saturday, although Diarra would not be able to make his debut, if fully recovered from an ankle injury, until 4 January against Villarreal.

Ramos said: "Diarra is someone I know perfectly well from my time in England. He is a France international and a player who is very similar to the Diarra that we have here. A player with very important physical characteristics as well as being a good footballer."

Real Madrid have lost the Mali international Mahamadou Diarra for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury and with Real now regarding winning the European Cup as their best route to a trophy, the player's availability for European football has made him their No 1 priority.

Ramos told the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser: "The players that are in the Champions League you cannot sign because they cannot play that competition.

"We are in the last 16 and that gives us a chance to win a very important trophy – one that is very special to Madrid because it is the club which has won it the most times, and we want to sign players who can help us in that quest.

"The centre-forward position we have sorted out already with [Klass van] Huntelaar but there are two more positions that we are trying to fill," he added.

Real also want to sign a winger and Middlesbrough's 20-year-old prospect Adam Johnson continues to be the somewhat bizarre name linked with a move to the Spanish capital.

Johnson was quoted in Spain's Diario AS, saying: "I'm flattered by the interest. Last summer there was a lot of talk about me signing for Tottenham and I know that Juande sent various scouts to watch me." However, Middlesbrough dispute the veracity of that quote as Johnson has not spoken to the media of late.

Ramos is understood to prefer Ashley Young but Real are sceptical about Aston Villa's willingness to lose their star player. Aaron Lennon and the Standard Liège winger Milan Jovanovic were both targets before Ramos took over, although the former Tottenham manager is understood to have since voiced concerns over Lennon's consistency.

In the Cadena Ser interview Ramos also spoke about some of the controversial methods he used at Spurs that were heavily criticised during his final months at the club.

Referring to his nutritionist Antonio Escribano, Ramos said: "Dr Escribano helped us a lot from the point of view of the team needing a change of habits. He went with us to London and four or five months later we had won a trophy and everybody was delighted saying this is the miracle of the the diet.

"But six or seven months later things had gone wrong and suddenly the diet and what we were eating was wrong, but football is like that. These things happen, there is no explanation for it."