Everything would have been so different if none of this had happened, so much easier.
I would have played free of mind, I could have done better, I could have been more decisive. Whether that was with Arsenal or the national team, I know I could have done better.
It started in February 2008. February 13, exactly one week before the second leg of our Champions League last-16 game against AC Milan, I lost my brother in a way I didn’t expect.
Fine one day and then the next, gone. Just 28. His funeral was in Senegal but I didn’t go, I came back to Arsenal to play in the second leg.
Back home everyone was very upset, so my father told me to come back to play. The manager trusted me as well. He didn't tell me what to do or take me out of the team, I made my own decisions and he respected them.
At the end of the day, I couldn’t let the team down. It felt like I had managed to separate my private life and my work, but then the next month it got even tougher.
We were playing against Chelsea, one of the best teams in the league with so many big players. I used to watch them all on TV and all of a sudden, there I was playing against them and scoring my first Arsenal goal at Stamford Bridge.
I was full of emotions but then later in the game I tried playing a pass, and something went wrong. I remember the pitch was a bit slippery and when I played the ball, my back heel slipped a bit more than it should and I tore my ligament.
At first, it didn’t feel that bad and I played on. But then about five minutes later I realised I couldn’t play any more. I had to come off and then they scored maybe two minutes after that. It was a terrible scenario.
Imagine the high of scoring your first Arsenal goal, only to get injured and then not win the game. I thought we were going to win that game, that we were confident and that maybe we could go on to better things. But at the end of the day, I got injured, we lost points and it felt like we lost it all. It was the end of my season.
I fought hard to come back over the summer. Being named in the PFA Team of the Year for my first season gave me lots of confidence but when I came back, everything became slow. I struggled to focus and I made mistakes. I was not myself and I knew I could perform better.
It’s hard to describe but nothing felt right. In my head I knew exactly what I could bring to the team but my body couldn’t do it. Some days I would feel like a robot. I used to drive there and not even remember the way I went.
I never spoke to anyone about it. People who know me know that I’m naturally quiet. It’s not in my nature to show off, I would turn up, train, give me best and then if I have to step forward, I will. But I’m naturally quiet and I would never ask for help.
My team-mates obviously knew something was wrong because they were living with me. They were so good with me, they made me laugh so much and they were good. I actually remember Gael Clichy taking me to a show called Africa Africa in London, at the O2.
I knew Gael from the national team and he was really close to me. He really helped me. All the guys, they made me laugh and made me realise that I'm still blessed, no matter what happened. It's a blessing and I had to go forward. Everyone was good at the club, even the coach, everyone talked to me in a way to help me.
But like I said, I never asked anyone for help. That’s why I have Neil, one of the psychologists, to thank.
It was a night before a game, I remember it so well.
“Bac, can I talk to you?” he said.
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, I’ve noticed that you’re here but you’re not here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been watching you for a while and you’re here but your mind is somewhere else. What’s on your mind?”
So we talked. And I opened up to him. And it helped.
I felt like I’d let go and that it was time for me to step up. It was time for me to just enjoy the fact I was wearing the shirt. It wasn’t down to anyone else, it was up to me to put my head down and work hard. Little by little, I came back to my best.
I got my confidence back, I was more decisive and I was playing better football. I thought differently. Football used to be everything but then once the 90 minutes are over, there are other things.
And those other things are important to talk about, too.
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