Almost two weeks ago, Abou Diaby was on the bench for Arsenal’s 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, making his return to the matchday squad following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture in March 2013.
The France international, once dubbed 'the next Patrick Vieira’ for his energetic, powerful displays in central midfield, has been through injury hell beginning with a near career-threatening ankle fracture at the end of his first season with Arsenal in 2006.
Since then, the 28-year-old has endured eight injuries to his left leg, eight to his right foot, and 16 to his right leg. Therefore, Diaby has a valid claim to be the most injury-prone footballer of the Premier League era.
But who else should be considered? Here are some players who could have made a bigger impact on the game if they weren’t cut down in their prime:
Jamie Redknapp (Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton)
Sky Sports pundit Redknapp was in the peak of his career when he suffered his biggest career injury. After meeting numerous experts (and hearing unusual treatment methods such as tooth-removal and injecting cockerel crest), he eventually had knee surgery in the US.
This prolonged his career for six more years but ultimately couldn’t prevent his retirement, aged 31, due to constant injuries which troubled him at Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, as well as in his Liverpool years. He also had a knack of getting injured on international duty, which happened on five occasions – two of these ruled him out of the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships.
Owen Hargreaves (Manchester United)
The BT Sport pundit had a playing career which lasted over a decade, but he made far fewer appearances than he should have when he suffered chronic knee problems following a broken leg in late 2006. Hargreaves, England’s best player at the 2006 World Cup, recovered to help Manchester United win the Champions League in 2008, before it emerged that he needed surgery on both his knees due to patellar tendonitis. The surgeon, Dr Richard Steadman, said at the time that Hargreaves’ knees were in worse state than any other he had come across in his 35 years of experience. Two years ago, Hargreaves was forced to retire.
Ledley King (Tottenham Hotspur)
Praise from fierce rivals needs to be earned, and that’s exactly what King achieved when Arsenal’s Thierry Henry described the Spurs centre-back as the strongest and fairest defender he had played against. During the last two of his 16 years with Tottenham, King only played in games – he was never able to train with his teammates – because there was actually no cartilage in his knees, meaning a cure wasn’t possible as there was nothing to operate on. In the summer of 2012 and aged just 31, he put an end to a career which included over 300 games for Spurs and 21 England caps.
Kieron Dyer (Newcastle United, West Ham United)
It’s easy to forget how much potential Kieron Dyer had before he became plagued by various injuries. A 17-year career featuring eight seasons at an impressive Newcastle United team and 33 international appearances is a testament to the Englishman’s talent. Unfortunately, in the last six years of his career he was only able to make 25 starts for West Ham United, Ipswich Town, Queens Park Rangers and Middlesbrough.
Hamstring problems flared up repeatedly during his spell on Tyneside, but it was a double fracture to his right leg at the start of the 2007-08 season which really curtailed his career. This forced him to miss the rest of the season. He retired last summer aged 34, leaving behind an injury list which also included further problems to his hamstring, calf, Achilles tendon, foot ligaments and knee.
Darren Anderton (Tottenham Hotspur)
'Sicknote’, a nickname given to Anderton by one of his teammates, was obviously going to be on this list. Despite recovering from a seven-month groin ailment to help England’s Euro ‘96 campaign, the former Spurs midfielder made only 39 Premier League appearances between 1995 and 1998.
Before that, his early days at White Hart Lane saw him undergo two hernia operations and for the rest of the late 90s and early 2000s, he regularly missed months of action – his groin and Achilles tendon being particularly troublesome. Somehow, in between all the treatment, Anderton managed to build a career in which he played nearly 500 times, and he hung up his boots in 2008 after spells with Birmingham City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bournemouth.
Michael Owen (Liverpool, Newcastle United, Manchester United, Stoke City)
According to the man himself, a hamstring problem when he was 19 years old “compromised” the rest of his career. He went from Premier League Golden Boot winner in 1998-99 to missing a third of the following campaign due to the injury. Owen recovered to win European Player of the Year in 2001, although ankle and hamstring issues limited his playing time in his final season before joining Real Madrid in 2004.
A broken metatarsal bone ruled him out of over half of his first season with Newcastle United, and then an ACL injury sustained at the 2006 World Cup took the next season away from him. Thigh and hernia problems also resulted in spells on the sidelines at St. James’ Park, while his later years at Manchester United and Stoke City were hampered by a fraught groin and hamstrings.
Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United)
The former Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur centre-back is still playing football at the age of 34, currently representing Middlesbrough in the Championship. One can only wonder where his career might have got to if he had remained injury free.
In fact, Woodgate has suffered so many setbacks in his 15 years of senior football that it’s impossible to recount them all – what can be said is that they have robbed a talented defender of the chance to add to his eight international caps. His Newcastle United days ended with a serious thigh injury, which resulted in him playing just 12 games in 32 months at Real Madrid. Surgeries to his back and groin also caused him to spend lengthy spells on the sidelines.