My personal history with injuries
My worst football injury was a leg break that occurred when I was about 10. I’ll never forget it. Inspired by the goalkeeping heroics of Irish shot stopper Packie Bonner in World Cup Italia’ 90, I had already set my life's ambition - I wanted to be the man between the sticks - screaming at defenders, and marshaling the troops.
My budding career got off to a good start. In games at the local green, I would pull off miraculous save after miraculous save. I was Gordan Banks in the making.
Wanting to push forward I tried out for a local 11-a-side team - Cambridge Boys in Ringsend Park, Dublin. Cambridge Boys were a tough bunch. The players had a hard edge. But once I showed up, I immediately displaced the current regular in nets. He was not too happy being demoted to the sidelines. He would chew gum and look at me with dagger eyes which made me a tad nervy I’ll admit.
All was going well, until the fateful day arrived. It was sunny if I recall. The grass was green, the manager was shouting on the sidelines. I should point out that in Ireland, we played our u11 games on full adult 11-a-side pitches - with full size goals. Absurd really. But it might help you paint a picture - a bunch of diminutive kids chasing a ball around a giant field.
A ball was played through to an on-rushing striker. It was a classic one-on-one scenario. I knew instinctively what I needed to do. Come out. Make myself big. Narrow the angles. After that it was just a blur. All I remember next was screaming in agony. I wouldn’t be surprised if my screams are still echoing somewhere today.
My Dad came to pick me up, and brought me to a local hospital. I had broken my leg so severely I had to spend days in the hospital. If I recall, I even needed an operation to realign the bones in my leg which were verging off in different directions. To this day, my right shin can be a bit sensitive (or it could just be in my head).
After recovering from that ordeal I returned to the number one position undaunted. But no sooner was I back on the pitch when an older kid with a Roberto Carlos style thunderbolt managed to fracture my brittle wrist bone. I saved the shot, but damage was done.
I have luckily managed to avoid any significant injury since then. I suppose I should count my blessings. It’s been a good run.
I should be more sympathetic to others with injuries. But playing in a 5-a-side league with some of my best friends when I was 22 or so, I became hugely frustrated with my injury-prone teammates. These players were not going down after heavy collisions either. They were blighted by knee issues, joint issues… you name it. The would run, and next thing you know, they’d be on the ground.
I was the self appointed manager of the team, and took the job responsibility with that of the Champions League elite. So to see my players on the deck hobbling off with regularity began to drive me nuts. These players were useful. We needed them. But I began to wonder why they were going down so easily. When it becomes so repetitive, you begin to think that perhaps, just maybe the players are a bit ‘soft’ (this coming from the biggest scaredy cat in town, let me assure you).
Injuries in the world of football
Often real managers wonder about their injury prone players too. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp shared his feelings about the constantly injured striker Daniel Sturridge. When Klopp took over Liverpool in 2015, Klopp said the striker must learn "what is serious pain and what is only pain."
As a fan, nothing is as upsetting as when an important player of a team you support falls injured at a crucial time - such as in the lead up time to a World Cup. That time unfortunately always coincides with the most intense time in the football season.
England, in particular, have had its share of bad luck over the years. I recall both David Beckham and Wayne Rooney being stuck down by the dreaded metatarsal in the weeks preceding a World Cup. The metatarsal injury, it would seem, was fashionable in the nineties. Some blamed lightweight boot design for the reason so many metas were causing strain.
Becks and Rooney. were both were struck down in the prime of their careers, and when England expected more than ever. Both injuries came with inadequate time to heal for the World Cup. The updates on Becks and Rooneys metatarsal status was as prevalent in the UK then as Donald Trump is on CNN today, such was the desperation of the Three Lions.
With national pressure requireing both stars suit up for their respective World Cups, suffice to say both players returned in time for the competitions. But, certainly in Rooneys case, nowhere near the level expected.
Imagine the frustrations for players that wait their entire lives to perform on the global stage, only to succumb to a performance-reducing injury. Think Ronaldo in the 1998 World Cup Final. Ronaldo suffered a mysterious seizere the day of the Final, leaving fans bewildered at what was going on with El Fenomeno..
Speaking of phenoms, I always feel Messi is carrying knocks by the time each World Cup rolls around. He is constantly accused of under performing for Argentina on the biggest stage. But surely, after a 60 game season for Barcelona, the toll has been taken on him. For Argentina on the big stage he often looks like he has a ball and chain attached to his foot.
But how does one avoid injuries and mishaps? Well, ironically one would say that to best avoid disaster is to be fully committed. If you second guess yourself and look to pull out of a challenge you stand a risk of getting caught. It’s like crossing a road and changing your mind half way. The tiniest pause to check yourself might be the split second needed for disaster to strike. It’s also a bit similar to changing your mind in a run up to take a penalty. That rarely works out well. One must have conviction in their movements and conviction in their tackles or you risk coming off second best, and perhaps minus a leg. It’s all down to confidence.
But even with the best will you can find yourself in trouble. I’ll wrap this up by showcasing arguably the most famous collision in World Cup history -