A career ruined in Sunderland: Abou Diaby retires

The day has finally come when Abou Diaby announced his retirement from football.

Abou Diaby (R), player of English premier league football team Arsenal, attends a press conference in Hong Kong on July 28, 2012. Arsenal will play Hong Kong side Kitchee on July 29. AFP PHOTO / Dale de la Rey
Abou Diaby (R), player of English premier league football team Arsenal, attends a press conference in Hong Kong on July 28, 2012. Arsenal will play Hong Kong side Kitchee on July 29. AFP PHOTO / Dale de la Rey

It will always be one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in football for me – what if Abou Diaby had never met Dan Smith?

Make no mistake, it was the Sunderland man’s reckless challenge that ruined Diaby’s career, nothing else. He may have been labeled as ‘injury prone’ but it all stemmed from that needless tackle when he was still just a teenager who had the footballing world at his feet.

“It was time, it had been coming,” Diaby told RMC in an exclusive interview.

“For a certain number of years now it has been difficult for me to come back. I have had multiple fitness coaches, at one point or another I had to ask myself the burning question. And I decided to quit simply because my body wouldn’t follow what I wanted to do anymore.

“Of course this is hard, I have given almost all my life to football. It is true that when you stop like this, it is as if a door is closing. But another is also opening. I took the time to think hard about this, it is a decision that has been well thought through, and I am at ease with it.”

Diaby was always a favourite of mine and the more injuries kept him out of the game the more my affection grew for him. I was all for the club handing him contract after contract. He was, after all, just a kid on Arsenal duty when he was crippled and the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the world was there for all to see.

Speaking back in 2017, Diaby said he would never be able to thank Wenger enough for the support he gave during his career.

“He is someone who is able to understand the personality of his players and uses that to make them successful. The players then feel good,” he told SFR Sport.

“The most important thing for me was that he believed in me. He is someone who understood me. He is someone who was enormously patient with me.

“Things started well but afterwards I had injuries and problems etc. But he always there for me. I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did for me.”

Joining Marseille after finally being released by Arsenal, the midfielder managed only five games in two seasons with the French side before being released there too. Diaby spent some time looking for a new club but was unable to do so.

It’s just a little over 13 years since Diaby made his debut for Arsenal in a 1-0 defeat to Everton.

Diaby signed for Arsenal on 16 January 2006 from Auxerre for a reported £2m. During his two years at the French club, he only made 14 senior appearances in all competitions but, while he trained with the first team, he would often feature for the reserves.

During Diaby’s first half a season in north London, he made 12 Premier League appearances, and two in the Champions League, scoring and assisting once. He was a massively promising player with a graceful, gazelle-like style of play; able to skip past other midfielders with ease.

However, tragedy struck on 1 May against Sunderland when a horrific ‘tackle’ from defender, Dan Smith, shattered Diaby’s ankle. Smith received a yellow card for his disgusting tackle on a player he couldn’t cope with.

Diaby received a lifetime of pain and frustration.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16:  Jonathan de Guzman of Swansea City holds off Abou Diaby of Arsenal during the FA Cup with Budweiser Third Round Replay match between Arsenal and Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium on January 16, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 16: Jonathan de Guzman of Swansea City holds off Abou Diaby of Arsenal during the FA Cup with Budweiser Third Round Replay match between Arsenal and Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium on January 16, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

After three surgeries and eight months of rehabilitation, Diaby returned to action in a League Cup match against Liverpool. He only played 16 minutes but Arsenal won 6-3.

Diaby scored his first goal for Arsenal on 22 September 2007 when we beat Derby 5-0.

In February 2008, the Frenchman picked up a thigh strain, which kept him out for eight games. Little did we know, this was just the start of a life-long battle against injuries, which would ultimately lead to him being let go.

In August 2008, Diaby missed five days with a groin strain, then strained his thigh again and missed a further 13 games. It appeared that the ankle fracture had caused an imbalance in his body, which resulted in injuries elsewhere.

Diaby was out injured 18 times while at Arsenal with the longest stint on the sidelines being 391 days with a cruciate ligament rupture.

Arsenal's French midfielder Abou Diaby (C) vies with Leyton Orient's Republic of Ireland midfielder Stephen Dawson (L) during their FA Cup fifth round replay football match against Leyton Orient at the Emirates Stadium, London, England, on March 2, 2011.   AFP PHOTO/ GLYN KIRKFOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY Additional licence required for any commercial/promotional use or use on TV or internet (except identical online version of newspaper) of Premier League/Football League photos. Tel DataCo +44 207 2981656. Do not alter/modify photo.
Arsenal’s French midfielder Abou Diaby (C) vies with Leyton Orient’s Republic of Ireland midfielder Stephen Dawson (L) during their FA Cup fifth round replay football match against Leyton Orient at the Emirates Stadium, London, England, on March 2, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ GLYN KIRK

Frustratingly, when fit, he was a simply wonderful player to watch and a personal favourite of many at Daily Cannon. Despite his long limbs, he made football look so easy and fluid – a typical Arsene Wenger player, which is probably why the boss encouraged him to stick around for so long.

The hope.

In total, Abou Diaby only made 179 appearances (44 as a substitute) during his nine years in north London.

He scored 19 goals.

In July 2015, Diaby signed for Marseille, although the injuries that have plagued his career to date continued to be a problem.

He made just five Ligue 1 appearances after joining and, at 32 years old, has finally called it a day.

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