Abou Diaby has shown great strength to bounce back from horror injury, says Patrick Vieira
Published 22:45 14/11/09 By Steve Stammers
The tenacious character of Abou Diaby has been endorsed by the man he has been groomed to replace at Arsenal.
Diaby’s football future was put in jeopardy in May 2006 when he was the victim of a horrendous tackle by Sunderland’s Dan Smith in a Premier League match at the Stadium of Light.
He suffered an appalling fracture of his ankle and needed all the mental strength he could muster to regain full fitness and establish himself as a contender for a starting place at Arsenal.
Diaby came through the test – and has earned the praise and respect of Patrick Vieira.
Diaby returns to the scene of his terrible injury for the first time on Saturday – and he does so with Vieira claiming the 23-year-old French international has proved he has what is needed to be an Arsenal star.
“It’s not easy to come back from an injury like that,” said Vieira. “He must be a strong player to do that. To make a full recovery, everything has to be right – the treatment, the support from the club and the help of the players around him.
“But most of all, the mind of the player has to be right. It is a long time not to be playing, especially when you are young.”
Diaby was out for eight months after the tackle by midfielder Smith.
“It could have finished him,” said one of the medical team at Arsenal who helped Diaby back to fitness. “If he had not had the will and had not been so strong in his attitude, he might never have been the same player again.”
Smith’s career has drifted down the drain. The 23-year-old is currently without a club.
Smith failed to make the grade with Sunderland, his home-town team, moved to Aberdeen and on to Darlington and Gateshead but was released this summer and is now believed to be working in his family joinery business.
But Diaby was determined to return. He was signed from Auxerre for £2.5million in the January transfer window of 2006 by manager Arsene Wenger, who said: “He is strong and has many of the characteristics of Patrick Vieira.”
Two years earlier Diaby made an international appearance on English soil that alerted scouts to his ability. He was in the France Under-18 team that took on England at Barnsley’s snow-bound Oakwell home.
Despite the raging blizzard, Diaby ran out in a short-sleeved shirt and tore the England midfield apart.
After joining Arsenal, he was adjusting well to the new demands of the English Premier League when Smith produced his awful challenge. “I know how hard it is when you come to England, it does take time to get used to your new life and surroundings,” said Vieira. “But I also know the club and I know how well he will have been looked after, the support he would have been given.
“But he has also proved good enough to get back into the first-team picture. That is not easy at a club like Arsenal who have so many top players.”
An Arsenal insider said: “He showed great patience and professionalism. He did everything right and got his reward. A weak person would not have been able to achieve what he achieved.”
If Diaby had not regained the form that led Wenger to see him as a potential “Vieira II”, he would have been moved on. But Diaby won his boss over.
He currently has a calf injury and Arsenal are working to get him fit for Saturday and the return to Sunderland.
“He won’t be fazed,” is the word from inside the club. “He will play as if nothing ever happened there.”