Finding a Sepp Blatter fan inside the FBI’s Washington HQ would be easier than locating a professional footballer that’s happy to sign a pay-as-you-play deal. With so much cash swilling around the game, no one wants one. Why would they? That’s why they’re so rare.
Yet for Abou Diaby, it surely has to be only option now.
Although the Frenchman appeared on Arsenal’s list of released players yesterday, it appears his days at Emirates Stadium aren’t necessarily over. According to journalist Bruno Constant, there’s a verbal agreement in place to stay, and that ‘talks are ongoing for a new contract.’
Given the midfielder has played just 83 minutes of first team football since penning a lucrative two-year deal in 2013, logic suggests the Gunners must be crazy. You’d think most clubs would readily seize the chance to wash their hands of a player who hasn’t provided value for money for a long, long time.
But that’s not Arsene Wenger’s style. In the nine years since Sunderland’s Dan Smith so recklessly smashed Diaby’s right ankle into smithereens (setting off a chain of related injuries that now totals over 40) he’s steadfastly stood by his man.
Why? It’s probably because he might have been the new Vieira. He could have been Arsenal’s answer to Yaya Toure. And in all those seasons of under-achievement, he may have been the glue that held his often-fragile team together.
When you rate someone as highly as the Arsenal boss regards Diaby, it must be incredibly hard to let go.
Kicking a man while he’s down isn’t nice either, and football is usually pretty good like that.
I’ve known a lot of managers fight a players’ corner, and get them short-term extensions if they come to the end of their contracts sidelined by injury. Abandoning someone that hurt himself playing for you isn’t especially fair – and that’s the stance Wenger has continued to take.
When do you say enough is enough? A lot of Gunners fans mock Diaby and would be delighted if the club set him free. I understand that, but those who think he’s a sponger are wrong.
He didn’t ask for his ankle to be obliterated. He didn’t want his phenomenal 19-year-old potential to remain unfulfilled. Sympathy, rather than resentment is what I feel towards him.
Being injured is horrible. In the early days of my own career, the longest I spent on the sidelines was six weeks, and it felt like six years. I hated it. Taking home the same salary was absolutely no substitute for the disheartenment felt.
The manager, the staff, and even your own teammates, quickly forget you exist when you can’t join them on the pitch. It’s a lonely old place.
To his credit Diaby has never thrown in the towel. Some might say that’s easy to do that when you’re collecting a weekly wage that most people can only ever dream of earning in a year (and it’s a fair point) but his unrelenting determination not to walk away still deserves respect.
This summer is a crossroads moment though. As gifted as he is, it feels like it’s the right time for him to give something back.
Let’s face it, 99.9 per cent of prospective employers would ignore his phone calls. Given his track record, Diaby’s prospects of landing a decent contract are next to non-existent.
So wouldn’t it be refreshing if the French midfielder put a halt to ‘negotiations’ in the coming days, and said, ‘just pay me when I play’? It’s not as if he’s living on the bread line.
Whether that happens or not we’ll have to wait and see, but I couldn’t think of a more apt way to thank his manager for the support.
And if Abou Diaby can finally mend his broken body, I don’t think there’s anyone that would love to put his name on the Arsenal team sheet more.
Read more from ex-Arsenal winger Adrian Clarke