May 1st 2006 - Arsenal were 3-0 up against Sunderland before half-time at the Stadium of Light. In the dying minutes of the game, in what had been a routine victory for the Gunners, Dan Smith’s two-footed lunge fractured the ankle of a 19-year-old Abou Diaby hailed then as ‘the next Patrick Vieira’.
The Frenchman subsequently missed the 2006 Champions League Final in Paris sixteen days later against Barcelona – surely a huge disappointment for the youngster who had only just arrived in North London the previous summer.
Manager Arsene Wenger paid £2 million to Auxerre little over three months prior to that injury for the up and coming Frenchman and the manager said of the tackle after the game:
"It is frustrating and unacceptable because the player had no intention of going for the ball in my opinion.”
Flash-forward to present day and a 26-year-old Abou Diaby has been ruled out the next nine months with a cruciate ligament injury that will see him sidelined until 2014 at the very earliest.
He has made just 15 appearances for the Gunners this term, after returning to the team at the start of the season; he injured his thigh against Chelsea back in September that saw him miss just over three months of this season. He had only just come back from a calf problem that saw him miss three weeks and he will now play no further part this season.
Diaby made just 5 appearances last season and, despite his exceptional quality, it it’s hard to envision that he will ever recovery fully from that injury in 2006. That was the catalyst for a string of subsequent niggles and setbacks that have rendered him perpetually unavailable for club and country.
It has been almost impossible for him to rebuild his fitness and form and with another nine months out the chances of him fulfilling his potential grow slimmer and slimmer.
I don’t want to write the guy off – it’s a great shame and a very sad story. What could have been and never was. But is that it for Abou Diaby?
His mental strength to keep rehabilitating, missing so much football and so many games of so many seasons, is a testament to his character and attitude. This time, however, may just be one time too many.
If anyone has another comeback in them it’s him – he will need great resolve and determination but if he can get back to fitness by January 2014, he can still challenge for a place in France’s World Cup squad that summer.
If he can keep his chin up and work hard on his recovery and rehabilitation, anything is possible but, for now, until 2014 that is it for Abou Diaby. The story is a sad one but it’s far from over. Not yet.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald