Serious, career-threatening injuries are relatively rare throughout a season at a club, fortunately, but statistics are of no comfort to the individual concerned.
In recent months we have seen some big names who have dominated the headlines as a result of an injury which necessitated hospitalisation and, subsequently, surgery with all the complications and doubts that go with it for a player.
The most recent case is Liverpool’s defender Virgil van Dijk, who suffered a serious knee ligament injury following a horror tackle with Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby which required surgery with no time limit on how long he will be out for.
Last season Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris not only dropped a cross early in the game against Brighton last season – which led to the Seagulls opening goal – but after landing awkwardly, the Frenchman dislocated his elbow and was expected to be out at least until the New Year, with Spurs almost immediately recruiting a replacement.
We can recall over the years serious long-term knee injuries to Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Paul Gascoigne, more recently Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a serious ankle injury to Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck. Everton’s Andre Gomes also suffered a horror ankle break in recent memory. There are probably many more who suffered similar injuries with less publicity, but who will no doubt also have feared: “Is this the end of my career?”
Injury is no respecter of position or seniority and is just as likely on the youth team pitch on a Saturday morning as on Sky Sports on Sunday afternoon.
The media reaction to such injuries is one of blazing headlines such as ‘Player shatters leg, could be out for a year’ or ‘May not play again this season’ followed by an in-depth article a few days later analysing the percentage chances for and against full recovery – not the sort of stories the player wants to be read whilst lying in hospital with his leg in plaster, feeling low enough already.
The initial emotive reaction from teammates and staff of support and comment are a great help to players in this position and cannot be overstated.
But life goes on and the club and players are in the business of playing football matches, fielding teams and training. It is left very much to the club doctor and medical staff to get on with the nuts and bolts of helping the player through the next few months of the often boring and dreary grind of recovery and rehabilitation, with the inevitable reviews with the consultants; X-Rays, tests, even further surgery plus possible setbacks.
This is the time when the player is a patient and not an injured footballer.
The physiotherapist’s role at this time is to work closely with the manager and other staff on an agreed plan -always subject to the medical aims and controls.
There is a lot of waiting time following surgery or time in plaster, and strict academic treatment is not indicated. Not much changes day to day, and progress can only be measured in weeks.
Being philosophical is not a strong point with most players so they need a lot of support and encouragement, to take a positive long view and not to listen to too many ‘experts’.
The physio has his priorities in place – the demands of seeing to the current crop of running repairs, travelling with the team and other duties which means that the long-term injured player has a lot of time on his own getting on with ‘body work’, etcetera, on his own in the gym.
Most managers and coaches are good at keeping a player involved by having him travel with the team, taking part in club activities, social or otherwise
It’s not always possible, but if not, it is good to devise a plan to fill the waiting time. For example, a few days at home for a young trainee with his mum and dad – he may normally be far from home in digs.
A week in the sun is always acceptable, with a complete break from the rehabilitation regime!
Players are all very different, they do not come made to measure but off the peg with different reactions to dramatic events in their lives that you find in any patient.
It is important to have a chat with them quietly sometimes away from the dressing room banter. A club psychologist and chaplains are invaluable at times like this to some players who want to talk out their fears with someone divorced from the mainstream of club life.
Over the weeks of recovery, the emphasis swings from the treatment of disability (hospital and treatment room) to the assessment of capability (track and gymnasium) with little punctuations along the way… such as the first day off crutches, first swim and first easy jogging session
Add to this little sweeteners and targets like: “Get your boots cleaned, we will take a ball out on the pitch next Monday.”
It is hard work for everyone, long, slow and tedious and not always immediately rewarding.
It may take longer than was first forecast, and each progressive step may not go quite like clockwork… but keep going and you get there.