When Abou Diaby arrived at Arsenal in 2006, there was a murmur of excitement surrounding the tall and powerful midfielder.
For one thing, Arsène Wenger had dipped into the market during the January transfer window – an occurrence rarely seen around north London at the time. What is more, Diaby had reportedly turned down the Premier League champions to join the Gunners. Wenger’s charm had worked once again.
I can remember watching Diaby’s unveiling on the television. Tall, gangly and fresh faced, he looked incredibly young next to Wenger. But the French manager’s brimming grin said it all – in his eyes, he had signed another bargain for £2m.
Since then, it would be an understatement to say Diaby’s career in north London has not panned out as anyone planned. The past five seasons have yielded just 42 appearances.
It is a painful and sad fact because anyone who has seen Diaby in full flow knows what a player he is. The game that perhaps sticks out the most is Arsenal v Liverpool in September 2012. In front of a packed Anfield, the French international absolutely bossed the game. He ran the show in a manner which hadn’t been seen since the days of Patrick Vieira.
Powerful, asserting and imposing, Diaby was Man of the Match and Arsenal won 2-0. It looked as though the midfielder had finally come of age. But Wenger’s words after were telling.
He said: “Abou Diaby gets better every game but we need to be cautious with him because he has had so many injuries. He can have a little breather in the international break.”
Diaby would end up playing 15 games all season.
And there in those nine words above is Diaby’s time at Arsenal summed up. Flash of brilliance, false dawns and the realisation that injuries will forever blight his career.
To date, the 28-year-old has had 43 different injuries during his time at the Emirates. 43. That is absolutely staggering when you compare it to other squads, let alone other players.
It has led to Diaby averaging 18 games a season during his Arsenal career. And that is largely down to the fact that in the 2009/10 season he made 40 appearances.
So why do Arsenal persist with him? Why the new contracts when he spends more time in the treatment room than on the pitch?
Well, there are most likely a number of factors.
First and foremost, as is often the case with Wenger, there is undoubtedly an emotional tie there. He saw the talent in Diaby when he signed him and like us he has witnessed those flash of brilliance. Giving up on the midfielder is clearly something he doesn’t want to do, especially when injuries have thwarted his chance to develop.
Secondly, there is the economical side of things. Once again, this is another classic Wenger trait. How much money would Diaby command in a transfer fee? £2m? If that. And how much have we spent in medical bills solving those 43 injuries? You do the math.
And thirdly, perhaps the least likely of the trio, Wenger still harbours a hope Diaby can become the player he has always threatened to be. At his best, the 6ft 4in Frenchman is a powerhouse. Those long strides make him the perfect box-to-box player. I am genuinely not exaggerating when I say I believe he could have rivalled Yaya Toure if given the chance. He’s that good.
Just look at the simple fact that every time Diaby is fit he goes straight into the France squad. Despite the crippling injuries he has made 16 appearances for Les Bleus – not bad.
Like Diaby’s time on the pitch, this post has been short and sweet. But as far as the future goes, let’s hope the 28-year-old gets to grace the Emirates turf a few more times.
Wenger has confessed he will offer the Frenchman a new deal if he proves his fitness, with his current deal expiring at the end of the season.
Diaby himself has vowed not to give – even with his injury nightmare still on-going. “My love of football is so big. I just couldn’t quit,” he said. And I for one, hope he finally fulfills that potential that made Wenger grin so broadly back in 2006.
By ‘#ABW Regular Columnist’ Simon Collings (@sr_collings)