29 March 2013

The Diaby Debacle


As news of Diaby's torn ACL has made the rounds, I've cast about desperately for news that could convince me that he will in fact return in 10 months' time. I've always been a believer in Diaby and hope fervently that he'll not only come back, but come back in a form that comes anything close to what he showed us against Liverpool in September when he was more spider than man, leaping and bouncing about, pouncing on balls and tackling various Scousers left and right. Were it not for his litany of injuriesnone so cruel as thishe'd be a world-beater, the kind of player we'd be lionizing and remembering for years to come. Instead, through no fault of his own, he's ended up as Samuel Jackson's character Elijah Price in Unbreakable, a villain so fragile that he can barely walk without fracturing something. Diaby could have and should have been Bruce Willis's character in that same filmDavid Dunn, the titular hero who was impervious to illness or injury.

The 'villain' reference is deliberate here but in no way reflects this writer's point of view. Sadly, there are a lot of critics out there who blame Diaby for his apparent fragility, as if he should just suck it up and play through the pain. On the contrary, I don't think I've seen a player come back, time and again, from one injury after another, as well as Diaby has. When he's in form, he's a joy to watch, a languid, lethal midfielder who can single-handedly dominate a match. Perhaps that's where the criticism comes in, albeit unfairlywe've built up our expectations of the man that no performance he puts on can quite live up to those expectations, and we leave ourselves balling our hands into fists over what could've been. His skill and potential have been so apparent, so effortless, that it's been disappointing to say the least when he goes down with what appears to be the faintest of knocks. Let the torn ACL be the hammer-blow on those great expectations. There's no second-guessing of the kind that has accompanied other strains, bruises, or muscle pulls. You tear an ACL, and that's all she wrote. If anything works in Diaby's favor, it's the progress that medical science has made in treating such an injury. There was a time when a torn ACL spelled the end of walking, not to mention running, jumping, or changing directions. There is a chance, however slight, that Diaby could return towards the end of the 2013-14 season. There are many top-flight athletes in other sports who have torn their ACLs but have come back just as good as they ever were, if not better.

At the risk of sounding recklessly optimistic, this might just be what Diaby needs: a "real" injury, not just to dispel the doubts and aspersions cast about by armchair-warriors, but to give his entire body a chance to rest and rejuvenate. Instead of feeling the pressure to rush back to competitive football to prove those doubters wrong after a lesser, "phantom" injury, Diaby can finally claim the legitimacy of an indisputably terrible injury, the kind that has ended the careers of lesser athletes, and can perhaps have the time he needs to really and truly recover. In the past, his injuries have appeared to too many to be faint or superficial, leaving them with the ammo they need to question his fortitude or grit. Now, I rather welcome the possibility that Diaby will someday take the field against some unsuspecting foe, one that looks at him and blithely underestimates him, and we see him blister that foe and his critics with the kind of performance he's been capable of all along. When he's in form (and yes, I admit this has been all too rare), he's a sublime talent.

What he brings is in many ways immeasurableagain, I admit that this is partially down to injuries, so stop thinking it as you readnot least of which because we have quite a few middies who have never had to duck beneath a doorframe or chandelier in their lives. The man stands at an indomitable 6'2" (1.88m) and plays with steel and verve, going in for tackles, intercepting and winning balls, and creating chances out of nothing. I'm not promising that he'll do the same upon his return, but I do hope to claim my place as first in line to shake his hand when and if he does. When he's on, he's a joy to watch, and I look forward to pointing that out much more often round about March 2014.