Lazio's Dabo eyes a move to MLS
As a teen, Ousmane Dabo moved to Inter along with best friend Mikael Silvestre
Dabo's career was punctuated by a vicious assault by an ex-teammate
Dabo's best performances have come in two separate stints at Lazio
Earlier this month, two former France midfielders revealed surprising plans about their futures. Patrick Vieira, with six months left on his contract at Manchester City, told L'Equipe magazine that he expects to stop playing this summer, as "playing for a small team would be too difficult to accept." Vieira, 34, thus ended speculation linking him to a reunion with former Arsenal teammate Thierry Henry at New York Red Bulls.
In contrast, another player with experience of Italy and England, Ousmane Dabo, then declared that he was keen to continue his career in the MLS. "I still have something to offer although as a 34-year-old defensive midfielder, I don't expect to be signed to help sell jerseys [with my name on them]," he told France Football.
Dabo was never as good a player as Vieira but there is more chance he will look back on his career with something like regret. As a product of the Rennes youth academy that has also produced Anthony Reveillere, Yoann Gourcuff and Sylvain Wiltord, he moved to Inter Milan in 1998 as a teenager at the same time as teammate and best friend Mikael Silvestre. After 12 months in Milan, Silvestre moved to Manchester United, while Dabo spent no more than a year with Vicenza, Parma and Monaco before spending two years at Atalanta, when he won his three France caps, followed by three years at Lazio.
By then it was 2006. Silvestre was still at United and he persuaded Dabo to join him in Manchester and sign for Manchester City. Dabo was sent off in his third game, then injured his knee which ruled him out for three months, but returned to start in 10 of the next 11 league games. Then came the moment that changed his career in May 2007: a training-ground fight with teammate Joey Barton, that left him with a detached retina and, as he put it, "looking like the Elephant Man."
Dabo prefers not to talk about the incident now, but he told English media how he had turned his back after a tackle on Barton only to be attacked from behind and struck on the temple with a blow that knocked him out. Barton then reportedly jumped on him, held his head and punched him twice more in the face, before his teammates pulled him off. "It was a cowardly attack and it was extremely violent. I could tell by looking at my teammates' eyes, how shocked they were about it too."
City coach Stuart Pearce told Dabo that Barton would never play for the club again, and he was as good as his word. Within months, City sold the Englishman, who has a history of violence, to Newcastle United. (He pleaded guilty to assault and was given a four-month suspended prison sentence plus 200 hours community service -- he later served three months of a six-month sentence for another assault.)
The incident affected others too: Silvestre, who later refused to move to Newcastle because Barton was at the club; Pearce, who left City that same summer; and of course Dabo, who made only one more appearance for City, and then rejoined Lazio in January 2008. "In Manchester, I had problem after problem: injuries, lack of trust from the coaches and then the Barton aggression," he told Calcio Italia magazine. " Everything that could have gone against me, did go against me. It was a very hard year. So I returned to Lazio because I didnšt want to take another journey into the unknown."
Back in Italy, Dabo showed something like his best form as Lazio took a surprise lead in the title race. His excellent holding play even led to calls in the Italian press for then-France coach Raymond Domenech to select him for France. Dabo was not holding his breath: "When I wasn't picked in 2005, I knew my time with Les Bleus was up. That was when I could have had some call-ups," he said.
So what can a guy whose best level was over five years ago bring to MLS? Well, he's unassuming, bright and open-minded; he certainly knows how to settle abroad; and he believes still has the ability to play, even if French clubs, who rarely take risks on players his age, have left him on the shelf for the last six months. "I have a lot of experience that I picked up in Europe and that could help a team," he told SI.com this week. "I've been told that MLS is getting stronger every year and that it is now a competitive league."
Dabo has not yet signed with a club but is hopeful that he will do soon, and join the growing number of French players in the league. He has not yet spoken to Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Leandre Griffit (Columbus Crew), Julien Baudet (Seattle Sounders) or Didier Domi (recently signed to New England Revolution) about life in the States. There will be plenty of time for that if he completes his move.