20 January 2014

Is Diaby about to bid us adieu?

Reports out in the last few days suggest that Abou Diaby may have already made his final appearance for Arsenal, with rumors of a Diaby retirement making the rounds. Should the rumors prove true, it would sadden me a great deal as the man has done his level-best but, through circumstances largely beyond his control, have fallen so far off the radar that it might just be time to move on.

In the case of Abou Diaby, the travesty is of course the injuries that have bedeviled him. In his eight years with the club, a span of time that might have seen him accrue some 400 or more appearances, he's only managed 178. His career tells a cruel story, one reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson's character in the film Unbreakable. Like Elijah Price, Diaby seems especially fragile and prone to injuries at any moment. He's suffered 35 significant injuries during his time with the club, the latest one an especially cruel rupture of the ACL that seems to have ruled him out the rest of the 2013-14 season. He'll turn 28 before the end of the season and would need quite a bit of rehabilitation and recovery before he could see first-team action. Given his history, though, the next injury could yet again lay him low only a few matches into his comeback. When he's been fit, he's shown flashes of a kind of dominance that is comparable to Vieira's, an ability to dominate from endline to endline, his lanky length allowing him, almost like a spider, to reach out and snatch the ball from any direction and launch a counter-attack almost single-handedly. Just as he was set to reclaim the kind of form that saw him demolish Liverpool back in September of 2012, his ACL rupture in March 2013 laid waste to those hopes, and we'll be without his services for the remainder of the current campaign.

When he does come back, if ever, he'll find a midfield even more-crowded than he left, and chances for action even fewer and farther in-between. Of course, Arteta and Flamini are no spring-chickens, but a defensive midfield of Ramsey and Wilshere would leave Diaby languishing on the bench. Given his history of injury, this might be a good thing, as the rigors of playing 80-90 minutes a week might be more than his brittle body could bear, but would such a role suit him? Most of the talk around Diaby's future with the club has centered around whether or not the club should keep him or move him on. However, the severity of his latest injury, the long recuperation time, and his advancing age may have changed the terms of the debate, maybe even to the point that Diaby himself would bow out rather than being cast off.

I've agonized over the man's plight, here and here if you care to dig deeper into the archives. Simply put, he's literally put his body on the line for the club, and, sadly, his body has paid the price. Years from now, he may struggle to walk unassisted, get out of a chair, or simply sit comfortably, as the aches and pains he's accumulated in these eight years marinate and get ornery. Much as I have wished to see him return with a clean bill of health and run amok on the pitch, I worry that those days are behind him. Much as I hope that I'm wrong on that score, I'd rather he choose his destiny rather than let the cold hand of fate lay him low one more time.

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote these lines, lines that seem to imbue Diaby's plight with deeper significance:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
So it goes with Diaby. He has been burning the candle at both ends, producing moments of that "lovely light''; sadly, however, it couldn't and hasn't lasted long. I hope we haven't seen the last of this man, but it's increasingly difficult to cling to such hopes. What might have been seems to loom larger than what could be...