When we signed Abou Diaby from Auxerre in January 2006 we did so against strong competition for his signature from Chelsea. The French U19 captain had forged a fledgling reputation as a technically gifted and quick midfielder with interest around Europe. As a tall figure standing at 6` 4″ with a leggy style of play comparisons to Vieira were inevitable.
He showed a lot of promise in the appearances he made in the 2nd half of the 2005/2006 season. That was until his season came to a premature end in the final month of the season suffering a broken ankle as a consequence of a two-footed tackle from Sunderland`s Dan Smith. Still he had done enough to create a feeling of optimism that we might have a replacement for Vieira that went beyond a passing physical resemblance.
Having recovered from his ankle injury his appearances have been restricted by a succession of other injuries which have prevented him from staking any real claim to a starting place. Apparently marked as the central midfield partner to Fabregas at the beginning of last season injury prevented him from doing so and allowed Flamini to make himself Cesc`s undisputed first choice partner. A position he held for pretty much the whole season. Diaby`s appearances, when fit, were restricted mainly to the left side wide midfield position – one he has never looked entirely comfortable with.
Again at the start of this season injury prevented any temptation to try him in a central midfield berth. To all intents and purposes he looks as though he should be a central midfielder but apparently he doesn`t think like one. According to Wenger he has all the attributes for the role except one.
“He has all of the ingredients both physical and technical but not tactical because in his mind he is more an offensive player and not a defensive player,” said Wenger
“That tactical defensive awareness is more in Denilson or Song than Diaby, who is more interested in making a difference going forwards.
“But we try to develop that in him and he has the ingredients to be a central midfielder. He is conscious of that but also you have to choose a position for a player where he feels comfortable with his physiological profile.
“If you play somebody against his deep desire, he can never be completely himself.”
Diaby has looked a top class player on occasions. In the Carling Cup final against Chelsea in particular but also playing centrally behind the striker this season against Fenerbahce and again against ManU at the Emirates. But we have plenty of choice in this role with van Persie, Eduardo, Bendtner and Vela all having claim to the position. It is unlikely that he would be able to make anything other than an occasional appearance there.
In the Manchester United game, though playing centrally he spent a fair amount of time on the right. Is this a position that he might find more comfortable being naturally right footed? It is one that he hasn`t really been tried in and we don`t have that many options beyond Eboue. It might be his one chance to find a role in the team because, unless he can change his mindset enough to acquire the defensive skillset to augment his technical qualities, he may find himself unable to fit in anywhere.
He is a tremendously talented player and we shouldn`t be willing to pass up on players with his level of quality too readily but at the age of 22 it is time for him to take the responsibility of making sure he meets the needs of the team and not the other way around.
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