So this mornings Arsenal news has, unsurprisingly, caused mass hysteria amongst our the fan base.
It is being reported that Arsene Wenger is planning to offer Abou Diaby a new contract, this despite him missing the majority of the last 4 seasons.
On the face of it, I can understand the mass hysteria. The fact we are considering offering a new contract to someone who has played so few games over the last 4 seasons is unacceptable, especially as we seem to refuse to invest in players who actually have a chance of getting on the pitch.
But let’s look beyond the headlines for a second. What does Wenger actually say?
“If he comes back, I will keep him. I always believed in him. In football, the most important thing is health.”
So yes, he is indicating that Diaby could get a new contract. But this is only on the basis of him returning and being healthy.
This is what the headlines fail to explain. They are sensationalist. Aimed to drive sales, to get web hits (we know all this already).
I have to echo what Tim Stillman has said on Twitter. Arsene Wenger was asked directly about the future of Abou Diaby and replied very diplomatically. The last thing he is going to say is, top quote Tim, that is “doesn’t matter what happens, he’s a goner”.
By saying “if he comes back I will keep him” he is offering a carrot. Diaby probably full well knows that he will leave us at the end of the season, but as long as there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, he will continue to work hard and get himself fit. And even if he does not get himself fit for Arsenal, he could put himself in a position to get himself fit for a contract with another club.
Were Wenger to shut that door, he might as well tell Diaby not to bother turning up to London Colney for the next 7 months. At the end of the day, whilst footballers are well paid (Diaby has been paid £24m over the past 4 years) they are still human beings. They still need to be treated with respect and compassion.
Arsene Wenger also has to look at the moral of the entire squad. Abou Diaby has been at Arsenal for 8 years. Whilst he does not deserve a new contract, he also does not deserve to be simply thrown on the scrap heap. I am sure he is very popular amongst teams, and I have heard he has done a lot of work on the training ground with youngsters and new signings. It would be ludicrous for Wenger to destroy not only the moral of Diaby, but the morale of fellow team mates, perhaps struggling with injury (Wilshere/Ramsey) by being so callous as to say in an interview “Diaby is a goner”.
On to Diaby himself.
I feel he has been in for a lot of unfair criticism. This is a player who, at 21, suffered a horrendous injury, which required 3 surgeries to repair and was told he might never play again. He battled back from this injury and, despite set backs, played 76 games in 2008/09 – 2009/10.
It was at this point Diaby got his current contract. The 5 year deal he has sat on. Having played 76 games in 2 seasons, he would have deserved the deal. The signs were he was over his previous injury, and moving forward to become a top player. He was still just 24.
For those who say he did not deserve this contract, think for a moment.
Robin van Persie left Arsenal at the end of the 2011/12 season. We lost him (and on the cheap) as he only had one year left on his contract. When he left, we all kicked off and moaned, that van Persie had been allowed to run his contract down to one year to go. That the previous year, he should have been offered a new deal, securing his future for the next 5 years.
In those previous years, van Persie played 52 games for Arsenal. That is 24 less than Diaby. So on one hand we moan that Diaby was given a new contract, on the other we moan that van Persie was.
Football is very easy in hindsight. Yes, it seems mad now that 5 years ago, Diaby was offered a new contract, but the future is hard to predict. At the time, it was the correct decision.
In the autumn of 2010 Diaby was the recipient of a further two horror tackles. Firstly in September 2010 by Paul Robinson, then a month latter by Michael Essien. All 3 horror tackles were on the same right ankle.
After the Essien tackle, Diaby played a further 14 games for Arsenal that season, and another 22 since.
He was on the verge of a full recovery, he had his new contract, and then disaster struck. Who could have foreseen that Diaby would have suffered 2 tackles in such a short space of time on the same ankle as what he broke and fractured a couple of years earlier?
Anyone who sits and says Diaby did not deserve his new contract in 2010 is an idiot. You are talking in hindsight, not knowing – or accepting – the fact. 76 games in the 2 previous years.
Yes, he has earnt £24m in ‘sick pay’ as I have seen one person put it. But this is the risk with contracts. This could happen to anyone. We could, have offered van Persie a 5 year deal before the 2010/11 season, he could have continued his poor injury record, and we would all be moaning that he got a new deal.
All contracts are a gamble. An injury could happen at any time that ruins a career, as seen with Diaby. A player could go completely off the boil, like Fernando Torres at Chelsea. In both scenario’s, you end up with a very expensive bench / medical bed warmer. But it is a gamble you take.
The only way to avoid the gamble is to offer shorter term contracts. 2 years. That way if a player picks up an injury, you are reducing the time until his contract runs out until you can release him on a free. But this is a risk, as it puts you in a scenario where every summer you need to be offering the players new contracts to secure their future.
As for people who say ‘we should have sold him’. Get your head out of the sand. How could we have sold him over the last 4 years? Who would have bought him? This is just crazy thinking.
Diaby has had a shocking career. Ruined by injury. That is not much that could have been done. The least we, as Arsenal fans, and the Arsenal management and medical team, can do is support him for the last 7 months of his contract. Let’s not throw him on the scrap heap whilst he is still Arsenal.