By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
Let us deviate from our other topics for a moment, and talk about an Arsenal player who has been on the cusp of being shown the door by the club – certainly the fans – for the amount of time he’s missed through injuries: Jack Wilshere. Why is he getting injured so much? Is he Arsenal’s most injury-prone player? Does he have the end product to justify staying?
Several factors, no, and… Perhaps. Let’s dissect this carcass of a player: Jack Wilshere came through Arsenal’s academy, and, of course, will only be let go in the worst of circumstances, given his undoubtedly world-class potential. About to turn 24 years of age, he’s far from Abou Diaby’s age when he left, so does he have much time left at Arsenal? The answer is more complex than many may think.
As we delved into in part one, Wilshere is part of a three-to-four player rotation of very similar players. Between himself, Cazorla, Ramsey, and perhaps Rosický if you factor him in at all, he’s probably third choice when fit, or perhaps first choice, depending on your preferences. Wilshere provides more going forward than any of them, arguably, as he’s contributed more goals-per-game than they have.
Wilshere also boasts the attributes of a defensive, deep-lying playmaker that can ping passes to players halfway across the pitch, particularly when playing with England. A player like that, with vision rivalled in the squad only by Cazorla and Özil, is a vital asset when fit. But that’s exactly the problem: when fit.
Prior to his current injury – which he’s set to be back from in a few weeks’ time, just after the Manchester City game – he had a total of 218 days out due to injuries from 2012-13 onwards. As of writing, his current injury has put him back 127 days, which should be 135 or so by the time he’s back… More than half that of before.
However, Wilshere is not actually injury-prone: that would imply that he’s injured often, when he’s actually injured for long periods of time. A player like Danny Welbeck is not injury-prone, he’s had one long-term injury in his career, it just happened to be several months long. No, in fact, Jack Wilshere’s case is more similar to Abou Diaby than anyone else: a victim of the lack of protection afforded to players.
Wilshere, Diaby, and others like them have all been victims of a lack of protection from referees, as the old adage goes. For what it’s worth, it isn’t incorrect: if a player such as say, Diego Costa, decides to play less than legally, and goes unpunished – or better yet, the victim is punished – this will only reinforce such actions. The concurrent referee may be as much a victim as the player if past referees have been lenient toward such actions.
Sadly, however, retrospective action seems to be taboo in modern football. Barring an entirely different argument toward the topic of refereeing and the dictatorship – whether benevolent or otherwise – of match-day referees, the gist of this point is that a referee’s job is, fundamentally, to protect players from each other. It is immensely saddening that a group of men, over the age of 20, must be monitored to avoid them injuring each other; it’s even sadder that this isn’t done well.
Let us, say, examine the situation we’re in now: given our past analysis, Wilshere would’ve been training for a long time, on a hard pitch, with a long schedule, without warming up adequately during a cold month, after a full calendar year of play; then would get two-footed by Paddy McNair. While it isn’t unreasonable to ask for Wilshere to be sold, given his immense value, it is unreasonable to blame him for his injuries.
A player such as Wilshere is far less injury-prone than one such as Alexis Sánchez, or Aaron Ramsey, who both get muscular injuries due to over-exertion. A hard training pitch does not cause muscular injuries as far as I’m concerned, but it would definitely not help with bone fragility as a result of previous fractures.
However, this causes a very interesting quandary to arise: most of Arsenal’s injuries are muscular, why would a hard training pitch cause muscular injuries? While, once more, I must reaffirm that I’m not a doctor, I have played on several types of pitches, and a hard pitch does not exert much any influence upon one’s muscles.
This leads to the second point on most peoples’ lists: the training methods. Let’s leave London for a moment, as this point can be applied to any team in the world. Let’s take a mental flight to Catalonia, to the maritime wonderland that is Barcelona. How is it that Thomas Vermaelen had the very same injuries he had for Arsenal while in the supposedly vastly-superior Camp Nou? Would Barcelona not have much better methods, staff, et al?
This leads to the actual point: players can be injury-prone. It is an unfortunate fact that a huge number of Arsenal players are injury-prone, and many just are not. Someone like Joel Campbell has never been injured at Arsenal, while someone like Abou Diaby, well… The less mentioned there, the better. Could it really be that simple? Well… Yes, actually.
Back out of the Emirates for a moment, to the Allianz: the aforementioned Bayern, stars of the first part, have several injury-prone players. Wouldn’t a team like Bayern have the funds, stature, and reach to get a better medical team than Arsenal? You would think so. The fact of the matter is, no professional club worth billions of pounds would stand by and watch injuries pile up without as much as batting an eye.
To say that any club would implement methods that would injure players is ludicrous, as they would be analysed far more than any regular fan can analyse them. For a paltry million or two, a team can protect their tens of millions in assets, worth billions in revenue if used correctly. This sport is far bigger than one that can be so callously managed. Albeit, injuries still occur at an alarming frequency worldwide.
Indeed, football is getting worse when it comes to injuries. With measures in place to prevent such things – even if they’re not properly applied – having done very little, if at all, to alleviate injuries, they have made them less potent than they once were. Where a player such as Lee Dixon could’ve easily broken a nose and had a face drenched in blood from a tackle worthy of a yellow card at best, the likes of Arjen Robben are getting away with so much as a bruise resulting in a red card.
The aforementioned willingness to protect a club’s assets is a huge part of this, and it’s definitely no coincidence that the biggest names in football are rarely carded, nor fouled with relative ease. A foul on Messi would result in far more punishment than a foul on, say, Ryo Miyaichi. Like it or not, football is a commercial platform that bursts at the seams with revenue for all parties involved but the match-going fan; a business will always discriminate – even if inadvertently – in favour of its biggest sources of income.
How many times have the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, or Agüero been given pain killers in order to play on? Conversely, how many times have Sturridge and Ramsey been rested for longer than they medically require in order to ensure they’ll be at one-hundred percent? It’s a sad fact of today’s football that one’s commercial value is more important than one’s wellbeing.
The wellbeing of players, the appointment of Shad Forsythe and its effects, plus the long-term effects of many of these injuries; with a final word on Wilshere to come. All of this can be expected in part three!
Ahmed Nada is a blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner