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Dabo’s run with Revolution over

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / July 19, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Ousmane Dabo’s cellphone battery was spent early yesterday afternoon. Word had spread that Dabo had announced his retirement after 16 years as a professional player, and the calls and text messages were coming in from Europe.

“Mostly from France and Italy,’’ Dabo said.

Dabo was living a dream when he turned professional with Stade Rennais in France, then went to Inter in 1998. In Dabo’s first starting appearance in Italy’s Serie A, the lineup included Giuseppe Bergomi and Javier Zanetti in defense, Roberto Baggio and Diego Simeone in midfield, Ivan Zamorano and Ronaldo at striker.

By this week, though, Dabo realized the dream had ended, a series of injuries limiting him to three MLS matches for the Revolution since March. Dabo’s composure on the ball and ability to link the defense and forwards were impressive in his small amount of playing time, which concluded with a second-half appearance against Manchester United last week.

“It is so frustrating, because I was so happy to come here and discover a new football, a new country,’’ Dabo said. “I was not even at 60 percent. It was so frustrating. I wanted to help the guys, even at training, to show my experience with the young players. Not so many regrets, because I tried, but my body does not let me.’’

Dabo’s early professional years were marked by major transfer sums. Serie A was flush with money and clubs were willing to splash out. Players coming through the French development system were high valued as Les Bleus won the ’98 World Cup. Dabo became a valued central midfielder, making more than 300 first-division appearances for eight clubs.

Dabo earned respect nearly everywhere he went, judging by the assessments of former teammates such as Youri Djorkaeff and Aaron Winter. Dabo’s fight with Joey Barton during a Manchester City training session seems to be an isolated incident. Dabo appears strong enough to take care of himself and he can be an imposing presence on the field - announcers used to confuse him with Nicolas Anelka when the two played together, Dabo said. But he definitely got the worst of it in the Barton clash, though maybe not as bad as the Barton teammate who had a cigar stubbed out in his eye. Barton was charged with assault, but Dabo’s time with Manchester City was effectively ended.

During his short time with the Revolution, Dabo was a class act. The only time he seemed about to lose his cool was after a quadriceps injury caused him to leave the field 20 minutes into a game against New York last month, perhaps knowing things were coming to a close.

By retiring, Dabo relinquished the remainder of his $200,000 annual salary.

“I’m not like this, I’m not a cheat, you know,’’ Dabo said. “And I don’t want to get paid like I’m here on holidays. I hate that.’’

In fact, Dabo seemed to take the Revolution by surprise. He could have continued to rehab and train, collecting money for the final months of the season.

“It’s extremely rare that you have a player that will retire midseason and walk away from a guaranteed contract through the end of the year,’’ Revolution vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said. “As difficult as it was for him I think it shows how professional he is both on and off the field. And we have nothing but the utmost respect for him and wish him well. But, bottom line is, we wish he was healthy and playing for us because we feel that when he was on the field we were a better team.’’

Dabo, 34, grew up in Laval, learning the game from his father, a Senegal-born striker.

“I’ve been playing all my life, since I was a little boy,’’ Dabo said. “It’s always been my passion. It’s a tough decision but I think it’s the right one to do at this time of my life. I got so many injuries lately and my body doesn’t let me play like I can so it’s better to say stop and do something else and release the Revs from my contract so they can get another player.

“Because of my age, it’s not a decision so hard to take, like if I was 25. I am at the end of my career so it’s easier to take this decision.’’

Dabo and Didier Domi, who was released last week, had similar career paths, both ending up with the Revolution this season. Both were eager to experience American culture and seemed willing to show the way for teammates. But they also struggled with the regulations of MLS and the Revolution’s style of play.

“We need more self-confidence,’’ Dabo said of the Revolution. “We lack confidence, so I hope the guys will have more confidence in themselves because they are good players. And, maybe, it would be good if the club can find good players to add and maybe the level of the team will be good.

“The level [of MLS] is good, some good teams that try to play football, possession of the ball. It’s quite physical. Tactically, they could improve, if you compare to Europe. But it’s a good level.’’

Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph was named to the MLS All-Star team for the eighth successive season. The MLS team will meet Manchester United July 27 at Red Bull Arena. Joseph (suspended) missed the Revolution’s 3-0 loss to Philadelphia Sunday but is expected to return for tomorrow’s visit to D.C. United.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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