Thursday, 20 January 2011

Happy Birthday Owen Hargreaves

Having had a quick look on BBC Sport today I saw that Birmingham's Scott Dann has been ruled out for the rest of the season, and Chelsea's Frank Lampard has suffered a calf injury in training. These two injuries, whilst obviously extremely important to the individuals involved, are afforded nothing more than a few sentences before the articles move onto the players who are going to replace them in the upcoming matches.

My point here is not that the BBC are doing a bad job, they're not. It is that injuries in the modern game are often overlooked, moved on from, and generally avoided by all writers, from news channels to humble internet bloggers (although this superb piece on Russian Amputee football is one exception I think there are two reasons for this, one the subject is a bit grim. No-one wants to think of quite how much pain Aaron Ramsey was in after Ryan Shawcross broke his leg. The other is, how much can you say about someone else's leg, other than, "that looked painful"? After that, and "it's unlucky", it's only natural to move onto what a team's going to do without that player.

But with today being Owen Hargreaves' birthday I thought it might be a good idea to take a quick look at what coming back from an injury means for a player. Hargreaves' injury problems are well documented, and it was a great shame when on his return to the Manchester Utd first team a few months ago against Wolves, he lasted about 5 minutes. He must have felt absolutely brilliant when he walked out for the match, only to be back on the sidelines after having spent roughly two years away.

The team I currently play for, Philosophy Society Football (or Phil Soc Soc), has nick-named me Owen Hargreaves. Now I am no-where near as talented, or unlucky with regards to injury as Hargreaves is and has been. I don't even play in the same position, I'm a striker who can play on the wing a bit (although I'm wasted on the wing, have you ever herad of a 6'4" winger?!).

Way back in early October of last year I was playing football with Phil Soc Soc. I'd just come on in a friendly against Computer Science. I was playing on the right wing and eventually a long ball came towards me. It was overhit and so went to their left-back who took a few touches to control the bouncing ball. By this time I'd reached him and went in for a tackle. My right foot trying to poke the ball away from him. I got my foot on the ball and felt a searing pain in my foot. The left-back had still been trying to kick the ball, but instead of the ball being there, the big toe on my right foot was.

My charming friends added some character to the cast.

Now I know it was accidental but I was pretty annoyed about this. It was only the third week I'd been in university and the last thing I needed was a broken bone. A trip to hospital confirmed that I had indeed, broken my toe in two places, the worst break was on the joint where the toe bone and foot bone meet. This meant that I really wasn't meant to bend my toe and had to have a cast put on it (see picture) and hobble round in crutches for seven weeks.

This injury meant that I was not only unable to play football for at least eight weeks, but that my life was severly affected. I was on a huge amount of painkillers for the first two weeks after I'd broken my toe, and could not go out on a night out. Something which is extremely annoying when you're a first year university student! I'm not suggesting that it was the worst injury in the world. But my point here is that an injury not only affects the amount of time a player is unable to play for, but their lifestyle as well. If a part-time player, who is also a postman, breaks his leg in a match he might well miss out on earnings from both, severly hampering his life.

There was also my return to playing football. It was mid-December and I played the final match of Phil Soc Soc's 5-a-side season. It was the first time I'd kicked anything since my injury, and it really bloody hurt. By the end of the match (in which we were soundly beaten by the league winners), I was in real pain and reluctant to tackle. If we imagine something more serious such as Aaron Ramsey's leg break again, we can see how a horrific injury such as his could be career threatening. Not that he won't be able to play again, he's recovered well enough to have been playing for Nottingham Forest recently, but in that it will have a potentially career changing effect on his game. He may be reluctant to tackle players, because of what happened to him previously.

It has happened to footballers in the past, after coming back from a bad injury, they aren't the same player any more. It might not be just to do with their injury of course, but it is often a contributing factor. Take Eduardo da Silva, formerly of Arsenal. Before his leg break against Birmingham in 2008 he had netted 12 times in 31 apperences. In his first full season back he scored 5 times in 32 apperences. Under half of the goals he scored before his injury. It might not have been that he lost any techniqual ability, but that he wasn't as confident, or was coming off the bench more often to be protected, or that he wasn't comfortable in an Arsenal shirt any more. He hasn't lost any football playing ability, he's scored 8 times in 19 apperences for Shakhtar Donetsk this season, but perhaps he lost some mental ability which meant that he had to move on from Arsenal to recapture his old form.

Whilst it is extremely uncommon for a player never to have an injury over the course of their career, there are those players who are unlucky enough to get reoccuring injuries, or several serious injuries. These players become designated as 'injury prone'; Hargreaves and Michael Owen being good examples. Because of that their career's become somewhat tarnished, sometimes forgotten. There is little that can be done to help this. It's part of the nature of football to be constantly moving on. After one season, there's the next. After one goalkeeper retires, there's another and so on.

Today however, I want to take some time to wish Mr Hargreaves a very 30th happy birthday. I hope that he recovers from his injury very soon and that he doesn't get another one in the rest of his time playing football. He's had more then his fair share and deserves a break.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Good blog Richard. The ever-present threat of injury is one argument why footballers earn what they do (or at least those in the top two divisions). Interestingly, I believe the tackle from behind was outlawed as a direct result of the career-ending injuries that Marco van Basten suffered.

  2. Good comment William! It certainly is one of the reasons, that and short playing careers as well as the revenue that a top player can produce for a club.

    Interesting bit of information there too, I didn't know that... Might have to take a look at the in the future.