EDITORS’ NOTE: Please welcome Gabriel Polychronis to the Short Fuse! Gabriel’s joining us from Adelaide, Australia and we’re excited to have him on board.
For any Arsenal fan, it is hard to forget the lanky and loveable 6ft 4 big-man, Abou Diaby. He is part of a long, tragic list of Arsenal players whose potential was never fully realised due to persistent injuries; think Mathieu Debuchy, Tomas Rosicky, Philippe Senderos, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla.
But Diaby’s past quality is not lost on one of the most popular footballers in the world, Paul Pogba. In a recent interview on the French TV program Canal Football Club, the Manchester United midfielder cited Diaby as a major influence.
“He was exceptional at Arsenal,” said Pogba.
“People forget about him but I learned a lot from him.”
When asked who was better than him in the central midfield position, Pogba listed many big-names, including Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric, and David Silva.
“…Even Abou Diaby,” Pogba said, as if knowing his name doesn’t quite belong in that start-studded list.
While he didn’t set the world alight, due to injury, at Arsenal, he will always be a fan favourite due to his unique style, and his loyalty to the club. Taking on Lee Dixon’s former number-two shirt, Diaby joined Arsenal in January 2006 for just £2 million, reportedly turning down Chelsea in the process.
With a towering, physical presence, he played a box-to-box midfielder role with vigour and surprising flair. After a few months of joining, however, he was butchered by an overzealous Dan Smith—a Sunderland youngster—and suffered a fractured ankle that would have lasting repercussions for the rest of his career.
He enjoyed many fleeting moments of form, including the start of the 2012/13 season, of which he started the first three opening games after Alex Song’s departure. (His boss performance in Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Anfield probably best displays his past potential.)
But alas, Diaby suffered yet another injury in Arsenal’s Round 6 loss against Chelsea that season. By the end of his decade-long Arsenal career, it was reported he suffered a total of 42 injuries—a truly tragic story for such a promising player, who was once likened to Patrick Vieira.
Perhaps I shouldn’t even be writing this, as Diaby has previously stated he is ‘hurt’ by people talking about his injury record. Many people say that he is ‘L’Homme de Verre’—made of glass, but at least Pogba recognises Diaby’s natural quality.
To be honest, though, I feel Diaby’s injury woes are more of an indictment on Arsenal, rather than the man himself. As I said earlier, he is only one on a long list of players whose careers were—for lack of a better term—destroyed by Arsenal’s training methods and fitness team.
With Santi Cazorla leaving the club after a string of injuries and unfortunate infections from surgery, we are still without a top-class CDM—a position that has been a black hole since, arguably, the departure of Vieira.
This is certainly a position that needs strengthening, and many quality central midfielders should be at the top of Unai Emery’s shopping list. But, for now, we are just left hoping with the question of ‘what could have been?’