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Red Bulls add Youba Diarra on loan as “complement” to midfield ahead of preseason opening

Malian defensive midfielder has shown promise but suffered from bad injury luck in career at Salzburg

RB Salzburg v Real Madrid - Pre-Season Friendly
Newly-signed New York defensive midfielder Youba Diarra tackles Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos while playing for Red Bull Salzburg in a 2019 friendly
Photo by Michael Molzar/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

In a deal first first reported by Once A Metro, New York Red Bulls confirmed the signing of 22-year-old Malian midfielder Youba Diarra from sister club Red Bull Salzburg on a full season loan. Diarra will occupy an international slot on the roster and permanent purchase option terms were not disclosed.

New York head coach Gerhard Struber, who has a long background coaching in Salzburg’s academy and reserve system, stated that there is an “advantage” in Diarra’s familiarity with the Red Bull tactical system that should help him integrate quickly. New York sporting chief Kevin Thelwell stated he expected Diarra to be a “complement to our midfield group” ahead of a 2021 season in which Venezuelan international Cristian Cásseres Jr, club captain Sean Davis, and recent designated player signing Dru Yearwood are expected to top the depth chart in the middle of the park.

Diarra joined Salzburg in January of 2018 as a part of a four-member group signed from the domestic leagues of Mali, signing from Yeelen Olympique de Bamako. Through a combination of planning but also injury setbacks, Diarra has spent his European career on a series of loans to Wiener Neustädter and TSV Hartberg of Austria as well as FC St Pauli of the German second division. These stints were interspersed with spells with the FC Liefering reserve side, formerly directed by one Gerhard Struber.

Diarra’s current deal with Salzburg lasts through May of 2024, following a contract extension in August of 2019. At the time, he was considered “an important player for the future” by sporting director Christoph Freund and the lack of an announced permanent purchase option implies that he may have more of a long-term future in Salzburg than recent veteran loans to New York such as Omer Damari and Marc Rzatkowski. It is additionally notable given the other Salzburg loan by New York this offseason, Brazilian goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, was signed with an announced permanent option.

With data and scouting reports showing a tendency towards lateral passing and deep positioning, Diarra is set to be the first dedicated defensive midfielder New York has deployed in several years, having seen more technical and attack-minded players such as Davis and Cásseres occupy the deepest midfield role as well as the floating, front-footed style of former standout Tyler Adams. With the coming installation of Gerhard Struber’s swarming midfield tactics, Diarra offers additional depth and flexibility on top of his tactical variety. Struber is at least familiar with the player from brief overlaps at Liefering, while New York assistant coach Bernd Eibler might be even more aware of what the Malian has to offer having worked as a video analyst at Hartberg during Diarra’s aforementioned loan.

But as Thelwell stated, this move (arranged by Diarra’s agent, the former Mali international and Tottenham and Sevilla striker Fredi Kanouté) is one meant to complement the current squad rather than change the face of it. Though the Red Bulls squad did assemble for preseason in North Jersey this morning, there is still almost two months before games are played, plenty of time for rumored transfer discussions to catch fire in an offseason where New York has shown a willingness to make bold decisions quickly.