The Clarke End – Diaby deserves respect, not derision
Is he a) delicate b) down on his luck or c) a deadbeat?
Abou Diaby’s never-ending fitness battles have sparked many a raging debate among Arsenal fans, ever since his 19-year-old right ankle was smashed to smithereens by a dangerous ‘tackle’ from a young pro called Dan Smith at the Stadium of Light on May 1, 2006.
Given the midfielder has made just 92 starts in eight seasons – and been treated for 35 more injuries along the way – I’d certainly tick the first two boxes.
Anyone who’d even consider the third option, is probably one them self.
I fully understand the frustration at setback after setback, but come on, has the Frenchman really wanted to sit on the sidelines so often?
Of course he bleedin’ hasn’t. So stop abusing him.
Dan Smith’s recklessness has caused Diaby a whole world of follow-up pain. Around two-thirds, in fact 23, of those additional injuries have occurred on his right ankle or right leg – and that’s no coincidence. It’s an area of his body that’s been a constant struggle to protect.
Being an injured professional footballer is not only mind-numbingly boring; it’s also a helplessly harrowing experience.
When you’ve got a bug, even if it’s just for a day or two, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to be healthy isn’t it? You hate it. You get frustrated. You just want to feel normal again.
Well, unable to do the job he’s been trained for, that’s what it’s been like for Abou Diaby during the bulk of his always promising, but so far disheartening Arsenal career.
He’s also watched good young players take his place in the team, watched friendships bond over victories, and watched painful defeats he could do nothing to prevent.
He’s also seen replacements signed in his position, seen plans made without him, and also perhaps most damaging of all, seen his name unfairly dragged through the mud for being ‘a slacker’ too. Forget what he earns or doesn’t earn. None of that is nice.
When I had a year out of the game with a reconstructed pelvis (albeit as a veteran) I lost my appetite for playing altogether. My eye turned towards other things in life; and that’s not unusual.
Abou Diaby has never given in.
In spite of his woes and the deep (visible) scars that he’s collected along the way, this is a player, who at 27 years of age still has the hunger to become a major success at Arsenal.
For that he deserves our respect, not derision.
Yesterday, after over a year of dedicated and no doubt monotonous rehabilitation in France, he was back out on the Emirates pitch strutting his stuff.
Playing his first competitive match since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last March, by all accounts he looked very good in an under-21 game against Chelsea.
It’s wonderful news. So, where now does he fit in to Arsene Wenger’s plans?
For those of you looking for that mobile, defensive midfield enforcer, forget it. He might resemble Patrick Vieira in terms of his frame, but this is a French international with very different qualities.
Although a competent tackler, and somebody who can get around the pitch very well indeed, I’m not convinced Abou Diaby has the discipline required to sit and screen the back four.
While Mikel Arteta has adapted fabulously to that new role, with age catching up on the Spaniard it was a decision that suited him. For me, Diaby still has plenty to give in an attacking sense.
And why try and curb his greatest strengths? When fit and on form, the rangy 27-year-old is a guy who can power through the midfield, turning defence into attack with grace and skill.
He’s a transition guy. A player that sparks attacks, with galloping guile.
His problem of course, is that Arsenal are well stocked for that kind of talent these days. Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all ebullient young midfielders capable of just the same. His size, strength and physical presence, do though set him apart. Even so, it’s not going to be easy for Diaby to reclaim his place in the starting XI.
However, at least he’s back and ready to give it another go – and in my mind that’s something to celebrate.
As for Dan Smith, whatever happened to him?
The same age as Diaby, the aggressive ex-Sunderland defender has seen his career path take him to Huddersfield Town, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Gateshead, Blyth Spartans, Chester-le-Street Town, Darlington 1883, Dunston UTS, Seaham Red Star, and currently fourth tier Australian outfit Holland Park Hawks.
Justice? It’s a box I’d tick.
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Did you see John Cross’s début column for 89th Minute last week? Read it HERE.
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