Last week Arsene Wenger once again hit out at Sunderland after Dan Smith's horror tackle on Abou Diaby in 2006. The Arsenal manager claimed the French midfielder's injury problems since that tackle have been due to Smith 'destroying' the player and claimed Smith was an 'assassin'.
Speaking in a lengthy interview with French website SoFoot, Smith once again apologised to Diaby but stressed that it was just a late challenge without any malicious intent;
It was not a malicious tackle, he has had other injuries since, as he had before. For Arsene Wenger to say that on television...for me, he's looking for a scapegoat.
This is my personal opinion. I never meant to hurt anyone, I never intended to hurt. The referee seen it clearly, I did not receive a red card, I do not even remember if I was warned. It was just a late challenge, that you see every weekend. There is one chance in a million that there is a serious injury. He had the ball when I was already running.
I have compassion for him, it was not easy, he has had a lot of injuries since. But if you take all of his career, you can not say he missed his life because of this injury. The last time I checked, he still earned 60,000 pounds a week while I work full-time in Australia.
If this has been an obstacle in his career, obviously I apologize to him, but he must not forget that there are people less fortunate than himself.
Smith said he apologised to Arsenal and tried to get in touch with Diaby after the incident only for the Arsenal player to not call him back;
I tried to contact him right after. After the meeting, I went on Match of the Day for a public apology and tried to contact him. The club did get my message of apology and I tried to call him, but he did not call me back. I apologized, it was the best thing to do.
It's not luck, but we have seen worse tackles since. There was Shawcross who broke Ramsey's leg, but we saw the Welshman come back and have very good seasons since. When talking about injuries, I think I'm an easy target.
Sunderland supported the player afterwards and Smith has nothing but praise for then Sunderland manager Kevin Ball who told him to go out and give everything he had;
The club was fantastic. Kevin Ball, who was the manager at the time, always supported me. He knew me since I was 13, and he knew that I was not a bad player, I have very rarely been warned. He supported me all the way. I was not only criticized in the media, but I was receiving death threats at the club, from some Arsenal fans. It was not very nice, but I guess you have to make do.
I began at Sunderland, my home-town club, and it was a dream come true for me. I was called up for England youth, I was a young, hopeful and people talked well of me. I think it was the worst possible timing. It was an unfortunate tackle. I made it to the first team and to play in front of 40,000 people was everything I had dreamed of. If I had not made the tackle, who knows what would have happened?
When I came on, there were 20 or 25 minutes to play. I knew we were going to lose, and if I remember correctly, we were already relegated. Kevin Ball had said to me; You are young, go ahead, give it everything you have. You're 18, you play in front of 30 or 40,000 people, you're always highly motivated. I wanted to impress him, to give 100%. I wanted the fans to see that I was ready to defend our shirt, even if we were going to lose. It was really bad luck. I just wanted to give the best of myself. He is a giant compared to me, he's 6'4" while I am only 5'9". His legs are twice as large as mine. So he hit the ball when I was already running to tackle.
Although Diaby has received plenty of publicity after his injury, Smith himself has also been plagued with injuries throughout his career and has spoken of the black mark next to his name which he has struggled to shake off;
They say any publicity is good publicity, but from my experience, I learned that I could never get rid of that image. They knew me as the guy who broke Diaby's ankle. This affected me, like nothing else in football. It's difficult when you are looked at more for the player you hurt than what you can do on the pitch.
[After Sunderland] I signed for Aberdeen, for 4 years. I did not play, although I was not badly injured. From the time I left Sunderland, I kept getting injuries. I came back and then I relapsed. I went to St Johnstone and Huddersfield, but I got to a point where the injury got the better of me too. The clubs could not take the risk.
I did the cartilage on both knees, twice, and the cruciate ligaments in addition to twisting. This shows that injuries, if you take my example, are part of the football business.
With all due respect to him, Diaby is a great player, but he has always had a reputation for being more injury prone than others. What happened between me and him is unfortunate. But there are more serious cases than his, in lower leagues, less publicized, and that annoys me a bit. There are a lot of players like me whose career crashes, and must find a job to live. Diaby has the chance to earn a good life, at least.
If you look at the path of Diaby, he is still a French international, despite his injuries. He still had a fantastic career. Since the injury he had because of me, he represented France and is still a great player. It is ironic, indeed, it could be karma...I don't know. It's part of football. I accepted the fact that certain things happen in a football career. You know, I too would dream of always playing at the top level. You get on the pitch knowing you can get hurt, either on a voluntary fault or an insignificant moment. That is football.
Smith had a message for both Wenger and Diaby, where he apologises once again and expresses regret for his tackle but clearly shows frustration after Wenger's recent comments;
Arsene Wenger is one of the greatest managers in the world. You must listen to what he says, and I respect the fact that he defends his players, that's what any great manager would do. At the same time, I find it a little hard for him to accuse me of being the cause of all the difficulties of a player who has had a 10-year career. I think he said that "every player needed his ankle." But everyone also needs his knee or his head. Everyone gets injured. Some manage to return, and others, unfortunately, do not. This is football. If I could remove the evil I have committed, I would. Unfortunately, I can not.
I played against Diaby in the League Cup too, a few months before. Arsenal was a team of stars, and in my eyes, Diaby was one, even if we were the same age. I watched him as a role-model, and I would never want to hurt him. A player who is in the field to hurt other players on purpose has no business being there. If I had a message for him is that if I had the power to turn back time, I would not make the tackle, of course. Or I wish he did not get hurt. But that's life, and unfortunately, I do not have that power, despite the fact that I would always be sorry for what happened.
Despite Abou Diaby being on the receiving end of an admittedly terrible challenge, you have to have some sympathy for Dan Smith. A young player who was just trying to make an impression after making the first team and has had one bad decision following him throughout his own injury-prone career, with a highly respected manager making sure that bad decision is never forgiven nor forgotten.
Hopefully Diaby can get back to playing regularly and accepts Smith's most recent apology and everyone involved can finally move on and leave this incident where it belongs, in the past.