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The Antagonist - Horror injuries more than justify footballer wages

Published: 17 Sep 2010 - 08:47:46

Antonio Valencia's horrendous ankle dislocation and fracture on Tuesday night stole the headlines from an otherwise dour attack v defence stalemate and was the latest example of career-threatening injuries that have blighted the Premier League since its inception.

I say career-threatening because, looking back on previous examples of similar injuries, the majority have struggled in vain to reach the levels of play they exhibited before and many have drifted, frustratingly, into premature retirement.

David Busst of Coventry is, perhaps, the most quoted example with his 1996 career-ending double fracture leaving the blameless perpetrators, Dennis Irwin and Brian McClair so distraught that they could barely continue.

Two years later, Pierluigi Casiraghi, then playing for Chelsea, was forced into retirement after 10 operations on his knee failed to rectify the damage caused by a collision with West Ham goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop.

In 2000, Luc Nilis of Aston Villa hung up his boots following a broken leg caused by a collision with Ipswich keeper, Richard Wright.

Perhaps one of the unluckiest victims was Djibril Cisse, once of Liverpool, who had two shocking breaks within a year; one for Liverpool against Blackburn in 2004, followed by a similar incident for France against China in 2005. He continued playing but has slipped down to the murky depths of Greek football in search of his fracture hat-trick.

More recently of course we have Alan Smith's amazing revolving foot against Liverpool in 2006 and Eduardo's similar contortion against Birmingham in 2008. Both are still in the game but their playing ability has been severely restricted, the former finally establishing himself as a Newcastle regular after nearly four years in the shadows, the latter leaving a promising future at the Gunners for an altogether less glamorous setting with Shakhtar Donetsk.

This year, already, we have seen Aaron Ramsey, Bobby Zamora and now Valencia fall victim to snapping limbs.

Blame for football injuries is regularly placed on the lightweight boots than are used these days, giving little or no support to the ankle. The slick soft nature of the turf the top players play on is also criticised for causing players to lose their footing or, like Valencia on Tuesday, forcing the foot into unnatural positions when attempting to twist or turn too quickly.

My response to this would be that whilst footballers may be wearing lightweight boots, it follows that they will, by implication, only be kicked by lightweight boots. Anyone who remembers being walloped by old fashioned variety of footwear that resembled builders steel toe capped boots will know what I mean.

Also, in those days, shinpads were optional and considered a bit 'girly'. George Best virtually never wore them and he was a prime target for top leg scythers of the 1960s.

When we look at the pitches in those days, I would consider that two inches of frost, a couple of inches of snow or a surface that resembled the Somme on a good day, offered far greater perils to the players than the billiard-table smooth, under-soil-heated versions they play on today.

What we forget is that there were pretty nasty injuries back then and many examples of people leaving the game very early in their careers but, in a less media conscious world, we just didn't hear so much about them.

Many footballers were finished in their late 20s or early 30s due to the ravages of the game they loved. One of the most famous, perhaps, was the late Brian Clough whose career was ended prematurely at 29 after a serious cruciate ligament injury.

In those days injuries like Clough's were virtually untreatable whereas today, surgery has moved on in leaps and bounds and offers some hope to even the worst injuries.

Football, by its nature, like most contact sports, exposes the fragility of the human frame and its participants should, therefore, always be aware of the possibility of a shortened career. Fortunately, these days, unlike the Clough era, a top player should, with prudent financial advice, be able to stash enough away cash in two or three seasons to live comfortably for the rest of his life if the worst scenario materialises.

Hopefully, with youth on his side, Valencia will make a full recovery. If he doesn't, it will offer a potent riposte to the growing band of 'grumpies' who constantly complain that footballers are overpaid.

After all, unlike the Civil Service, football is not necessarily a job for life.

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the antagonist
Love him or loathe him you cannot ignore the Antagonist. His Friday blog tackles the big issues in our game today in an abrasive, often controversial style. He goes where others fear to tread. From wages to wags, diving to drugs - no subject is "off limits", no individual beyond reproach. Miss him at your peril!

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