Although Abou Diaby had once been considered as the replacement to Patrick Vieira at Arsenal, injuries sadly never allowed him to live up to his promise. Now though, as Alasdair Hooper writes, he is heavily involved in making a difference off the pitch.
When Abou Diaby signed for Arsenal in 2006, big things were expected of the French midfielder.
But, as many of us know, his career was blighted by injuries that ultimately stopped the towering midfielder from fulfilling his potential.
He joined the Gunners from Auxerre in January 2006 and comparisons were immediately drawn with Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, who had been sold to Juventus a few months previously.
Unusually he was given the number 2 shirt, which had last been worn by Lee Dixon, but the midfielder stuck with it for eight of his 10 seasons in North London.
Diaby’s frame and talent excited many people convincing some that he could go some way to filling the Vieira void. However, on May 1st, 2006, came the tackle that would shape his career.
He was on the receiving end of a horror challenge from Sunderland’s Dan Smith and suffered a severe ankle fracture as a result. The midfielder would miss the 2006 Champions League final as he underwent three surgeries to repair his injury.
Ten months later he returned to action but, as he said in an interview with Arsenal, he knew things were different.
“It definitely had a big impact on my career,” he said.
“Before that happened, I didn’t know what these muscular injuries were. This accident created more injuries after that.
“At that time, I was only 19 or 20. You get injured and just think, ‘I will get my treatment and go back on the pitch’.
“When I came back on the pitch afterwards, I knew that something was different. I lost a lot of flexibility in my ankle; I wasn’t as quick, and I knew something had changed.”
“I started getting injured often and getting muscular injuries and it was definitely related to that.”
All in all, Diaby would only make 180 appearances for Arsenal in his decade at the club, but there were some highlights along the way that endeared him to supporters.
He was particularly good in the 2009-10 season where he was able to make 40 appearances in all competitions, reminding fans just what he could do on a football pitch.
Manager Arsene Wenger also retained his faith in the player right until the very end, showing his understanding through difficult times as the midfielder battled for his fitness.
Diaby only made 42 appearances for the club in his final five seasons and, in the end, was released in June 2015.
He soon signed for Marseille but again the injuries continued to plague him – he only made six appearances in two seasons for the club and he left in 2017.
In February 2019, the midfielder officially announced his retirement at the age of just 32, having only made 214 career appearances.
Diaby turned 35 on Tuesday this week (May 11) and has several projects on the go these days.
He is also particularly involved in helping to make a difference, having set up the Abou Diaby Foundation.
The foundation aims to tackle poverty using jobs and opportunities so that people can earn a living rather than relying on handouts in Africa and Asia.
And that’s one of the reasons so many love Abou Diaby.
He may have been incredibly unlucky throughout his career with injuries, but everyone always wished him the best.
To see him now making such a difference is brilliant and shows just what a class act he is on and off the pitch.
You can follow Alasdair on Twitter at @adjhooper1992