By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
We’ve spoken about Arsenal’s injuries, as well as the injuries of others, and their usual causes. We’ve established the fact that all clubs have injuries, regardless of stature and finances. We’ve also debunked the myth that clubs don’t look into solutions, but do we know the full extent of those solutions? Often, they come at a cost to the player, more than the club.
Let us return to our favourite bugbear: Jack Wilshere. Many have mooted his return to the squad in the long term if he does not have surgery. What would surgery mean for a player, however? As most know, a player that has undergone surgery will never be at their previous peak potential; a common result of this is that players are given surgery at the tail end of their career, for a final hurrah.
However, we’ve just dived into the deep end of this debate: what is the worst case scenario for a player such as Wilshere, one who isn’t quite injury-prone, but targeted? The worst case, in this situation, is a permanent, Diaby-esque injury that leaves his career in ruins. Some would say the current injury has done so, albeit he remains one of the younger members of the potential starting XI, at nearly 24 years of age.
Wilshere, among other Arsenal players, and players throughout the world, is being targeted by defenders for rash tackles, in order to bring about a forced substitution, or at least break-up the play. A result of the tackles he’s suffered is that he must run bowlegged to avoid placing too much stress on his ankle, which, in-turn, makes his ankles more stressed on impact. Once more, I’m no medical specialist, this is my assumption based upon my own experiences.
A bowlegged runner, such as the once-young Wilshere, must receive corrective surgery in order to run normally without significant pain, bone stress, or ligament tearing; according to most medical sources. The direct result of a surgery, in the short term, is that Jack will be out for a few months, and will return as a perennially-fit player, as are his regular compatriots; or will he?
Once more, Wilshere is not injury prone: he’s targeted. Surgery, which would significantly lessen his impact on the pitch due to its physical effects on any patient, would not stop him from being tackled. Many a Gooner, physician or not, has stated that he requires surgery, but does he? While this may be the case in order to get the best out of his running, it would not affect his passing, nor shooting; see the goal of the season last season for proof of such.
In fact, a surgery may impede his abilities, as he would never be at his peak, and his progress as a relatively-young player, ever-developing, would be stunted more-so than it already has. In order to find a solution to a problem, we must remedy it from the source: fixing Wilshere’s now-broken ankle would not stop him from being two-footed by another defender, while the referee waves to play on as he limps off the pitch.
Off of Wilshere for a moment: several players across the globe, in every league, are mistreated and mismanaged, medically. The statistics of these events can be jarring, such as the amount of times players have died on the pitch due to unforeseen consequences of significant doses of painkillers, such as cortisone; a substance allegedly used by one such Lionel Messi, who has been carrying an injury for roughly a year, which would explain his occasional vomiting.
The fact of the matter is that, to a club, a player is an asset: their worth is in goals, assists, key passes, interceptions, titles, and shirt sales, et al; none of which are gained during a concurrent injury. The frequency of players being thrust into action early is not only alarming, but blatantly nonchalant at times. Some clubs, such as the aforementioned Messi’s own Barcelona, bring players back early, as soon as they’re ready for training.
In some cases, players are brought back into training as early as they can walk, – not necessarily run, either – and are not given breaks by their national teams, either – ask Alexis Sánchez. National teams, as well as clubs, are guilty of playing their players into the ground, regardless of their well-being. No truer is this than in England, where a full XI of players can win the league one year, and suffer a humiliating season the following year.
Take a look at, say, Chelsea. Their players looked rampant, on fire, and hungry in 2014-15, but are the antithesis of their past form in 2015-16. Part of this is in the scheduling in certain countries. Step into the shoes of a top-six Premier League starter: you must play a game on Sunday, have an FA Cup game on Thursday, have another league game the following Monday, followed by a Champions’ League clash on Wednesday, with a League Cup game on the Sunday thereafter. Your team will likely rotate you once during that window. Once.
Anyone who has worked from 9-to-5, or gone to school daily, will know that a workweek in itself is not a physically-calming state: imagine playing an average of 75-to-80 minutes of arduous football every third day. The average Premier League starter plays roughly 84 minutes of football per match, as a mean value. Take Aaron Ramsey, for example, who suffers hamstring injuries often: he averages roughly 2.6-3.1 kilometres travelled per match, and usually plays a full 90 minutes of football.
If you were in his often-moving shoes, you’d run roughly 6 kilometres every week with the aforementioned schedule: how many people are capable of doing such a thing, week-in, week-out? A starter’s average distance covered at the end of a season is somewhere near the thousands, in all competitions; the human body is not built to handle such intense physical stress.
Factor in, if you can bear it, international tournaments, friendly tournaments, and overseas promotional matches: have you had enough, yet? There is a reason players in England are paid more on average, and that is their work rate. The work rate demanded of them is well beyond what a person is capable of, and yet they’re expected to endure and carry on; many are even berated when they eventually succumb to injury.
The fact of the matter is, clubs don’t care. A player is with their club for a maximum of maybe twenty years, and they will want to gain as much from that player as possible in the time they spend together, commercially. Clubs are not necessarily evil: they are a business. The sheer absurdity of the figures they must pay to keep these assets is rivalled only by the absurdity of their benchmarks.
In order to maintain their assets’ health, clubs hire specialists. One such specialist is the once-praised, now-maligned Shad Forsythe. Brought in by Arsenal to ‘fix’ their injury problems, the number of injuries has stayed constant, at the comical figure of 69, between 2013-14, and 2014-15; 69 each. However, he has not been hired in vain: his appointment has seen Arsenal have 43% less injuries in their problematic November period from 2014-15 to 2015-16, and 42% less time has been lost to injury.
One man cannot do miracles, and Arsenal, alongside other clubs, are doing all they can to maintain their players without causing them significant, long-term pain and suffering in the process. Injuries, in and of themselves, are permanently part of one’s life: a once-broken knee will always creak slightly, a once-torn hamstring will scar inside, and gradually become easier and easier to tear.
The solution, in many clubs’ eyes, is to destroy their players’ – assets’ – bodies in the long term, in order to benefit in the short term – a ‘solution’ I’m very happy Arsenal is not taking with most of its players, even at the current cost.
The final part of this argument will discuss the most important topic of all: the solution. As previously discussed, clubs have exhausted their potential solutions; the solution lies in a higher tier of brass within the footballing hierarchy. Tune in for the final instalment, wherein solutions will be discussed, with the elephant in the room of the winter break being discussed.
Ahmed Nada is a guest blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner