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What might have been will never be: Abou Diaby announces retirement

The perpetually injured ex-Gunner bows to reality.

Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers - FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

There are athletes that sail through their careers with nary a blister to their names. There are other athletes who get injured at a rate one would expect commensurate with the demands of their sport - sprains, muscle pulls, etc.

Then there’s Abou Diaby.

This chart, from the Daily Mail, summarizes what he’d endured up to the point this article was published in 2016:

Over nine seasons at Arsenal, Diaby averaged a mere 14 appearances a season - not because he wasn’t good enough to stick around, but because most of the time, he wasn’t healthy enough to make an impression. When we saw him at full strength, he was really good, and that wasn’t a fleeting glimpse - his two best games at Arsenal were arguably the 2007 Carling Cup final against Chelsea and the 2012 league match at Liverpool.

In both matches, he took command of the midfield; he was one of the first “Next Vieira” type players Arsenal would sign, and it looked for all the world like Diaby would actually become that level of player. His May 2006 ankle injury didn’t stop him from bossing that Cup final in 2007, but it was the first domino in a very long, convoluted pattern of dominoes to fall that would eventually lead to the 2013 ACL tear that ended his Arsenal career.

Every time he’d get healthy, he’d have a setback, and every time he overcame that setback, we’d get a tantalizing glimpse of the player we all desperately hoped he would be. Then, another injury hit, and he’d vanish again, working behind the scenes to get fit, only to see the cycle repeat itself again and again.

I can’t imagine the positive attitude and mental strength it takes to come back from so many injuries so many times; I would have probably packed it in after the second or third try. But it’s a testament to Diaby that he kept on working and fighting his way back.

Today, though, he announced that his fight is over. After a couple seasons at Marseilles in which he played a total of five games, Diaby has called it a day. The incident that finally felled his career permanently was an operation he had to clean up persistent pain in the same ankle he injured in 2006; I do wonder if the full-circle nature of that surgery made him think “you know, this isn’t really worth it any more” and to shut down his sporting career to preserve the functioning his 32-year-old body for the rest of his life.

I’m sorry we never got to see the best of Abou Diaby; what we saw, when we saw it, was sublime. All the best, Abou. You deserve it.