Vassiriki Abou Diaby (French pronunciation: [abu djabi]; born 11 May 1986), known as Abou Diaby, is a French footballer of Ivorian descent who plays for English club Arsenal in the Premier League and the France national team. He primarily plays as a box-to-box central midfielder, as he is adept in both attack and defence, and is described as a player who is “languid, elusive, and athletic” that can either “dribble past opponents or slip passes to team-mates”. Of Ivorian descent, Diaby also possesses “superb touch” and “excellent close control”, however on the negative front, he often struggles with repetitive injuries, a problem that has existed since his time in France. His physical appearance and positional preference have evoked comparisons to Arsenal legend and compatriot Patrick Vieira.
Diaby was born in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, but was raised in the Parisian commune of Aubervilliers. He began his football career playing for hometown club CM Aubervilliers. In 1998, he joined Red Star Paris. A year later, Diaby was selected to attend the Clairefontaine academy. He spent four years at the academy while simultaneously training with Red Star. A year before departing Clairefontaine, Diaby moved to professional club Paris Saint-Germain. Following an administrative error by club officials which made Diaby a free agent, he joined the academy of Auxerre. He spent two years in the club’s youth academy before making his professional debut in the 2004–05 season. Diaby also played in the UEFA Cup with the club. After spending the fall portion of the 2005–06 season with Auxerre, in January 2006, Diaby signed with English club Arsenal on a long-term contract for an undisclosed fee. He made his debut with the club that same month and scored his first goal three months later against Aston Villa. Diaby suffered a severe ankle fracture 5 months after joining Arsenal, and has since struggled with numerous injuries.
Diaby is a former French youth international having earned caps at under-19 and under-21 level. Prior to playing for the senior team, he played on the under-19 team that won the 2005 UEFA European Under-19 Football Championship. Diaby made his senior international debut in March 2007 in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying match against Lithuania. He has represented France at one major international tournament; the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Diaby participated in all three group stage matches the team played as a starter.
Diaby was born in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, but was raised in a housing development in Aubervilliers, a northeastern suburb of Paris. He is the son of a long-distance truck driver and developed an interest into the sport of football after becoming fascinated by several players who played on the 1998 FIFA World Cup-winning team, most notably midfield stalwart Patrick Vieira, whom Diaby describes as “a monument to French football”. Diaby was also adept at playing other sports such as basketball and boxing. Of Ivorian descent, Diaby is a practicing Muslim and, while growing up, developed a fascination towards the subjects of religion, philosophy, science, and astronomy. Diaby became interested in accountancy after taking a course at the age of 17, while he was at the Auxerre youth academy.
Diaby began his football career playing for hometown club CM Aubervilliers in December 1996. While at Aubervilliers, Diaby was coached by David Giguère and Alain Mboma, the latter now serving as the manager of Red Star Paris. After two years at the club, Diaby’s quick progression at the amateur club led to a move to nearby semi-professional outfit Red Star Paris in Saint-Ouen. While in the club’s youth academy, Diaby was supervised by youth academy director Yves-Henri Gergaud and was described by club youth coach Marco Lienel as a player who was “fairly quiet and quite frail”. Diaby started his career at the club playing on its under-13 team in the Division Honneur Régionale of the Île-de-France region. After spending a year playing with Red Star, in 1999, he was selected to attend the Clairefontaine academy. While at Clairefontaine, Diaby was a part of A la Clairefontaine, a documentary series which chronicled the lives of the France’s top young footballers during their time at the academy. During the series, an episode showed Diaby getting into a physical confrontation with Hatem Ben Arfa.
Towards the end of his development at Clairefontaine, Diaby departed Red Star to play domestic football with professional club Paris Saint-Germain, despite being a supporter of Marseille. He spent a year at the Camp des Loges, the club’s training center, from 2001–2002. After his departure from Clairefontaine, Diaby was expected to sign a youth contract with Paris Saint-Germain. Club officials wanted to keep the player, however, the club’s human resources department failed to send a “letter of commitment” to Diaby’s parents ahead of the 30 April 2002 deadline, which resulted in the player becoming a free agent. Diaby was hastily recruited by Auxerre scouts and he joined the club’s academy ahead of the 2002–03 season. In his first season in the club’s youth academy, he won the Division d’Honneur des 16 ans, the under-16 league title of the Bourgogne region.
During the 2003–04 season, Diaby alternated between playing on the club’s under-19 team in the Coupe Gambardella and playing on the club’s reserve team in the Championnat de France amateur, the fourth level of French football. During the reserve team season, he played on the team alongside future Arsenal teammate Bacary Sagna, as well as Younes Kaboul, Hassan Yebda, Jean-Joël Perrier-Doumbé, and former Clairefontaine classmate Garra Dembélé. Diaby finished the season with the team with 11 appearances and one goal as the team finished first in its group. After the season, he signed his first professional contract with the club agreeing to a three-year deal. Manager Guy Roux subsequently promoted Diaby to the first team and assigned him the number 24 shirt.
Similar to the previous season, Diaby regularly trained with the first team, while concurrently featuring as a starter on the club’s reserve team. He made his professional debut on 14 August 2004 appearing as a substitute in a 3–1 league win over Rennes. After making his debut for the club, Diaby spent the rest of the fall season either playing on the club’s reserve team or dealing with injuries. He returned to the team in March 2005 making his European debut in the team’s UEFA Cup Round of 16 first leg tie against domestic rivals Lille. Diaby appeared in both legs as a substitute as Auxerre won the round 1–0 on aggregate. The club later lost in the quarterfinals to Russian club CSKA Moscow. Diaby made his first professional start on 20 March against his former youth club Paris Saint-Germain. He played 74 minutes before being substituted out in a 1–0 loss. Diaby made three more appearances as a substitute to close out the season.
Following the season, Roux retired as manager of Auxerre after managing the club for 44 straight seasons. He was replaced with former France national team coach Jacques Santini. During the season, Diaby featured early on during the campaign, but as the fall season wore on, he struggled with injuries, which subsequently, led to the playing failing to gain the confidence of Santini. Unlike fellow youngsters Sagna and Kaboul who were quickly establishing themselves at their respective positions, Diaby only featured in five league matches during the first half of the season. The midfielder did score his first professional goal on 10 September 2005 in a 3–1 loss to Rennes. In Europe, Diaby featured as a starter in the team’s first round defeat to Bulgarian club Levski Sofia in the UEFA Cup. Midway through the campaign, Diaby was deemed surplus to requirements by management. Following the sale of the player, vice-president Gérard Bourgoin declared that “We have always kept the young players which our coach wanted to use, but Diaby did not play, so this was a strategic sale for us”.