Arsenal: Why Didier Deschamps' Comments About Wenger and Diaby Are Insensitive
Last month, I was apprehensive about Abou Diaby's call-up with the France national team, an apprehension I suspect must have been shared by fellow Gooners.
Diaby has had a horrific history with injury and was just returning from his latest setback, a setback that caused him to make just three peripheral appearances for Arsenal for the whole of last season.
This horrible season was emblematic of Diaby's entire career at Arsenal since his career-threatening ankle fracture in 2006.
BBC Sport carried this entry of the injury in their May 1 website edition:
Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a fractured dislocated ankle.
Diaby was on the receiving end of a heavy tackle from Sunderland's Dan Smith during Arsenal's 3-0 win.
The injury means Diaby will miss Arsenal's last two Premiership games and the Champions League final match against Barcelona on 17 May in Paris.
An immediate point can be drawn from this report, the fact that the injury prevented Diaby from featuring in what was arguably Arsenal's greatest match to date, the club's quest to conquer Europe.
One could argue that the Champions League final is comparable to a World Cup final, since most now agree that the Champions League is the pinnacle of world football.
If this is so, then it requires not a great deal of imagination to see that the injury cost Diaby a heavy price, in terms of making a high-profile appearance in a high-profile match.
Diaby was injured in this match against Chelsea in late September, but Arsene Wenger seems to imply that the root of the injury can be traced to the earlier one in the France-Finland match early in September. Getty Images.
This is akin to great footballers missing the Word Cup final due to injury.
Given the fact that injuries impact players' careers, I believe Didier Deschamps' comments about the Diaby situation to be insensitive. (See comments here, via The Telegraph.)
In saying that he is the only one to "decide who will be picked and how long those who are picked will play. There is only one to decide and it’s me," he isn't only insensitive to the situation, he displays an ill-advised and unnecessary pugnacity as well, since Arsene Wenger's comment on the issue appears innocent and harmless enough.
Responding to a question from journalists, Wenger had said:
I think it was a mistake to play (Diaby) with the national team.
I said many times that if France wanted Diaby in Spain they should not take him for Finland and Belarus.
It is clear from this comment that Wenger isn't averse to Diaby being called up to play for France, he only says that the timing wasn't right, that this was too close to Diaby's return from injury, and anyone familiar with Diaby's injury history can hardly blame Wenger for saying this.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
It doesn't require a great deal of wisdom to conclude that it would have been better to give Diaby time to demonstrate that, indeed, he can stay fit over a prolonged period before integrating him into the national team.
While Deschamps might not see the necessity for this, for a club that has to pay the player's salary while out injured for prolonged periods, the concern has to be legitimate.
Deschamps can afford to forget about the injured Diaby, since he can find replacements for him easily enough; Wenger and Arsenal can't.
What makes the situation distasteful is the fact that Diaby's injury costs Deschamps and France nothing in terms of money.
He and the French FA aren't the ones that'll shoulder the player's wages, despite the fact that he wouldn't be available on the pitch for the club.
One would think this fact would elicit a little more understanding, a little more humility, a little magnanimity, not just from Deschamps, but from every national team manager.
The nature of the relationship between club sides and national teams is such that a delicate balance is required not only between the two bodies, but also between the managers of the bodies.
If Wenger is asked a question regarding Diaby's injury vis-a-vis its relationship to his earlier injury in the France-Finland match, it is only natural that Wenger would give his opinion on the issue.
And if, before this match, Wenger had requested that Diaby be exempted from the first two qualifying matches but was disregarded by Deschamps, one can understand why Wenger would be frustrated by the situation.
What is curious about all this is Deschamps' failure to display collegial magnanimity, choosing instead to assert an authority that was not under threat or under challenge in the first place—strange display of insecurity, if you ask me.
But above and beyond Deschamps' personal grouse against Wenger is his lack of sensitivity to the player's career.
In making the above statement, his single-mindedness is underscored.
In saying that, "I am the only one to decide who will be picked and how long those who are picked will play. There is only one to decide and it’s me," he, in essence, is saying the following:
I don't care what the club that monitors this player daily and, thus, knows him very well has to say about him and his fitness.
I am the France national manager and, hence, the final place where the buck stops. As such, I can do whatever I like whether it injures the player in question or not. I do not consult with clubs or club managers. I am the boss.
I do not care about this player's career, what I'm interested in is how the player can serve my interest for the now.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
This isn't only arrogant, it is heartless, as far as it concerns the player's ultimate interest.
Normally, players, especially the younger ones, would jump at every opportunity to play for the national team. It is, however, the responsibility of the managers of these teams to balance this enthusiasm with the overall interest of the player.
I recall Wenger issuing several warnings about the overuse of Jack Wilshere. He warned that the player might burn out or, worse, get injured, and that's what exactly happened, and it happened while Wilshere was on national duty for England.
Robin van Persie incurred a number of injuries while on national duty, and when this happens, it is the club that suffers in more ways than one.
If Diaby's overall career could be prolonged by exempting him from certain matches, would it be too difficult a thing to do?
Having watched Diaby suffer one setback after another over two seasons, isn't it common sense that Deschamps would listen to advice and recommendation from the player's club?
I find it, thus, rather stupid on the part of Deschamps to say that decisions about players are only his and his alone to make. I am apt to think that many other club managers, not only Wenger, would beg to differ, and I don't see that this is a wise quarrel for Deschamps to pick.
Diaby began the 2012-13 season with a number of promising performances. Getty Images.
And this leads to my third and final point.
Deschamps is stoking unnecessarily the simmering war between clubs and country, and I do not see that such a stance benefits national managers.
If after Diaby returns from this latest setback Arsenal were to ask him to choose between remaining with the club (in the light of all the support it has given him over the past six years of his injury-plagued career) by excusing himself for a while from national duties and risking more injuries from national duties and being released by the club, I'd hardly blame the club.
In fact, I'd feel that the club would be justified, even though the action would be seen as drastic. But the fact is that Arsenal are the ones that have sacrificed greatly in standing by this player (something that should be applauded for its dual ramifications).
It is, unfortunately, a fact that Deschamps has failed to appreciate, the reason for his unwise and callous comments. As a Gooner, I do not appreciate these comments.
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