By Phil Minshull
BBC Sport, Spain
Yaya Toure has impressed in midfield for Barcelona
It has taken a long time but African midfielders look like they are finally getting accepted in Spain's La Liga.
In the past African players in Spanish football have been noted for their skills at finding the goal, or stopping them.
However, the men in the middle have been usually ignored.
Strikers like Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o, the only African to top the Spanish first division scoring charts and pick up the prestigious Pichichi award, are obvious favourites.
Goalkeepers like the Barcelona player's compatriots Jacques Songo'o and Thomas N'Kono are another breed appreciated by Spanish football fans.
But ask them to name an African midfielder and many people would have scratched their heads in the past.
Not now. "Diarra, Toure, Keita... African midfielders are now in fashion," observed the prestigious Spanish football magazine Don Balon on its front page this week.
Real Madrid's Mahamadou Diarra, Barcelona's Yaya Toure and Sevilla's Seydou Keita have set the standard.
Not only do they play for last season's top three teams in Spain but they are also among the first names on their coaches' team sheets.
"Toure is a very impressive player, he's very strong physically," commented Barcelona president Joan Laporta, the man who signed the US$16.6 million cheque to buy the Ivory Coast star from French side Monaco in the summer.
"Diarra is very important to my plans. When he's not in the team we miss him," added Real coach Bernd Schuster in admiration of his Malian midfielder.
Seydou Keita has quickly made himself a fans' favourite at Sevilla.
They're impressed not only by his hard work in providing continuous service for his team mate and fellow Malian Fredi Kanoute, but also a spectacular goal against Real recently.
Why African midfielders have not made an impact in Spain until now is potentially a cause of much debate.
One reason, although most people within the enclosed environment of Spanish football would be reluctant to admit it, has been racism.
Spanish football clubs are only just starting to shed themselves of some of their racist attitudes.
In particular, the belief that African players struggle to impress in the more technical roles on the pitch, long after most English, French and German football clubs have cast aside such doubts.
Another is that African midfielders themselves are now better, and can comfortably hold their own at top clubs, after being talent-spotted earlier and given more exhaustive coaching.
"I am not sure what sort of player I would have been if my first club (Spanish second division side Poli Ejido) had not spotted me playing in a tournament for immigrants," said Valencia's 19-year-old Nigerian-born Stephen Sunday.
"But they saw that I had some physical skills and gave me a lot of advice about how to best use them.
"I now really enjoy the responsibility of being the linkman between the defence and attack," he added.
The talented teenager was in the Spanish squad at the recent Under-20 World Cup but has not yet closed the door on representing the country of his birth.