MOMO Diame will be like ‘a new signing’ when he returns for Wigan Athletic against Everton this afternoon.
That’s according to Roberto Martinez, who will pitch the midfielder straight back in for the ‘must-win’ clash at the DW Stadium.
The Senegal international has missed the last four matches due to African Nations Cup commitments, and his absence has been felt with Latics going down to Swindon, Manchester City, QPR and Spurs.
However, Diame and Co unexpectedly flopped at the African equivalent of the European Championships, crashing out after the group stage without a single point on the board.
After being provisionally ruled out of club combat until the end of February, Diame’s swift return means he’ll be available for three ‘bonus’ matches – against the Toffees, Bolton and Aston Villa.
And Martinez feels that could act as a massive boost to his side’s hopes of avoiding the dreaded drop.
“We need to assess Momo before the game, but he has played enough football recently to ensure his match sharpness hasn’t suffered,” revealed the Wigan boss.
“It’s important to gauge how much he’s been affected by the travelling and the whole experience. But my gut feeling is that it’ll take a lot to keep Momo out of some kind of involvement against Everton.
“If that’s the case, it’ll be like having a new signing.
“We never expected him back for the beginning of February – we were always resigned to it being the back end of February.
“We are looking like having three ‘bonus’ games out of him, and those nine points could be vital come the end of the season.
“To have someone with his know-how and experience available again is a real boost for the squad.”
Martinez was also at a loss to explain how Senegal – one of the pre-tournament favourites – found themselves on the first plane out of a competition they’d been tipped to challenge strongly for.
“Expectation is a big thing, and when you go to a big tournament and you’re not expected to get anything it’s easier to perform as individuals and as a team,” Martinez added.
“When the expectation is there, like it was with Senegal – because of the outstanding individuals and quality within the squad – it is sometimes too much to deal with.
“They always seemed to concede an early goal, which meant they had to ‘go for’ games too early, and they left themselves far too exposed.
“That would have been new for them, but I’m sure Senegal will learn from it and they’ll come back stronger for the next one.
“On a personal level, though, the whole competition will have been hugely beneficial for Momo, and he’ll come back a much better player than the one that left us last month.”
There was more good news for Martinez with Franco di Santo reporting no long-term effects to the nasty challenge he received from Benoit Assou-Ekotto at Spurs on Tuesday, although there remains a question mark over Antolin Alcaraz (calf).
James McArthur is pushing for a start after his goal at White Hart Lane.