The Diaby injury situation puts Wenger's faith to sword
“The club can confirm that Abou Diaby injured his left knee in training on Wednesday and subsequent scans have confirmed that he has torn his anterior cruciate ligament. Abou is expected to be out for around eight to nine months” - Arsenal.com on March 28, 2013.
In January 2006, Arsenal football club were in a bit of a jeopardy. After an apparent ‘behind the scenes, inside the boardroom’ tussle with Patrick Vieira, the club had abruptly let go of their midfield marshal and charismatic captain in the summer of 2005. A difficult start to the season meant that the pairing of Gilberto Silva and Cesc Fabregas struggled to hold their own, and by the winter transfer window, a top four finish in the league seemed a deluded dream. Along came January and Arsenal completed the signing of a tall, lanky and rather unknown Vassiriki Abou Diaby, a 19-year-old from Auxerre. All in all, a typical Wengeresque acquisition.
Although, Diaby’s impact on the season wasn’t as colossal as Adebayor (a fellow January signing), a handful of appearances were enough to convince the Arsenal faithful that they had a real ‘talent’ at their disposal, envisioning him to be a natural successor to the lynchpin of three title winning teams. On May 1, 2006 though, it all came crashing down. Arsenal were routing an already relegated Sunderland side, the game was close to conclusion, the ball was in a harmless area of the pitch when a 20-year-old Dan Smith managed to conjure up the motivation for a ludicrous two- footed studs-up lunge, a tackle almost criminal considering the fact that the damage inflicted (as explained brilliantly here by the Beautiful Groan) put a footballing career at stake.
“If you tackle anybody in the street like that, you go to jail.”- Wenger on the tackle in a 2009 interview.
The repercussions of the tackle were fractured fibia and tibia, ankle dislocation and severe ligament damage followed by a lengthy 9-month spell out of the game. While the media conjectured between the tackle being ‘horrendous’ and ”there was no malice involved’, Diaby has had four surgeries on his right ankle to alleviate the various complications and bio-mechanical problems suffered over a period of time.
“It was a very bad injury and there was a worry I might not come back. When you watch this team you want to be out there on the pitch and be a part of it.”- Diaby, in a 2007 interview.
Arsenal fans, in general, have been patient with Diaby partly due to the promise he has managed to exhibit over the years. Despite the fact that he hasn’t been able to play consistently (177 appearances in the last six seasons), his stats and performances (away at Liverpool this season, for instance) don’t fail to put up a strong case for him. A good passer, an efficient dribbler, a knack of scoring and making goals and an ‘in your face’ tackler, it would be a little immature to completely write off a guy who turns 27 this May.
Diaby’s injury ravaged past as well as present has led to suggestions that he might not consistently play world-class football ever again. While some would want Wenger to cut his losses and let him go, others cite the example of players like Robin van Persie and Tomas Rosicky, patience with whom ultimately paid dividends, with due respect to the fact that van Persie has had almost 30 injury- free months and Rosicky was a victim of a misdiagnosed freak injury.
While another manager might have given up on him by now, as Diaby himself admitted, Wenger has been a buoyant force in helping him revive his career as proven by the long- term contract extension offered in 2010.
“He (Diaby) is the first player who would be on the France team-sheet in midfield when he is fit”- a testament to Wenger’s belief.
Sadly, three months into 2013 and Diaby’s Arsenal career seems to have come a full circle. With just seven weeks to go for the end of this season, Wenger will have to make a decision, come this summer. Diaby, when on song, has proven to be a vital cog in Arsene’s system. Unfortunately, those moments have been few and far between. Offloading Diaby right now might not be the wisest of evaluations of the situation due to his grievances and wage problems (he currently earns ₤50,000 per week; an evident hindrance).
Irrespective of what happens in the summer, it is highly speculative if Diaby would be able to impress in the famous red and white again. As he begins to prepare for his rehabilitation programme, one can only wish well for the France international. Until then, it will be a distressing tale of an exceptional player who ultimately ran out of luck and turned into a forgotten man.