By Tony Attwood
So it wasn’t just me who picked up on Damien Comolli’s suggestion that the injury crisis in football is not all down to Arsenal, but is down to nationality.
The Telegraph today tells us that more than a quarter of the Premier League’s 142 English players unavailable for international selection because of injury. Unfortunately I can’t check that fact because the link the paper gives goes to one of its usual Arsenal knocking stories, rather than a list of players, but the number is probably more or less true.
The issue of having more English players in the Premier League has been with us for a long time. At present the number is around 35%. The concept of promoting more such players has been based on the idea that this way we’ll win the world cup. But the fact is that when the first division was made up of about 80% English players (the rest being Scottish, Welsh, N Irish and Irish – many of whom were not actually born in those countries or the province but whose parents or grandparents were) England only won the world cup when playing all its games at Wembley.
What’s more as the oft-repeated Untold research on the subject shows, countries like the Netherlands which have most of its players playing overseas do much better than we do.
But hey. Evidence! Who needs it?
So what are we going to do with the news that 37 English players who might be considered for England are injured?
Well, if we follow the normal English approach, we’ll blame someone else. Johnny Foreigner is usually at the root of most problems if you read the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, The Star and the rest.
But from an Arsenal point of view it is not an issue that Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, the Ox and Theo are injured: it is also Daniel Sturridge, James Milner, Luke Shaw, Danny Ings, Fraser Forster and Ben Foster. It’s the English disease.
The Telegraph’s article is helpful, but it has its usual odd-ball approach. Although it talks of injuries from other clubs it is littered with pictures of injured Arsenal players. And when mentioning Damien Comolli, suddenly his eight years at Arsenal vanishes from his cv, as does his two years at Saint-Étienne and instead any reader of the piece who didn’t know better would think he spent his career at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool instead of short periods with those clubs.
But the Telegraph have saved me a job. This morning I was going to go through the records of the Premier League clubs to see how many of their current injuries were to English players. They’ve done it for me. Here’s the current injury table.
*Carroll, Andrew Thomas – 0
*Collins, James Michael -1
*Cresswell, Aaron -9
*Jenkinson, Carl Daniel – 6
*Moses, Victor – 5
*Noble, Mark James – 9
*O’Brien, Joseph Martin – 0
*Randolph, Darren Edward Andrew -3
*Tomkins, James Oliver Charles – 7
Writing before, I couldn’t quote you the exact words of Damien Comolli as I was driving when I heard his interview. Now I have the comment. He said, “I was reading that Roy Hodgson will be without 13 players going to Spain this week. Can you tell me any other country in the world where 13 players will be missing going into international duty? I don’t know what the answer is, whether it is down to too many games when young, nutrition, lifestyle, climate, the lack of a winter break, but it always amazes me that so many English players are injured.
“I believe that these problems stem back to what happens to a young player between the ages of ten and 19, so is there a deeper problem that the Premier League and the FA need to look at it? It is a debate which needs to be aired because you do not see the same pattern in the likes of Holland or Germany – both of which have similar climates and cultures to England.”
Jürgen Klopp experiencing English football for the first time, has been making the same point after Jordan Rossiter was injured with England Under-19s.
“I have never heard that a player that young plays three games in five days,” he said. “That was the problem why he got injured. I don’t know who I have to speak to about this, but I will find a way of talking to someone. It is not OK. Is it normal in England that you have to play three games in five days? These young players are our future, but if we handle them like horses then we get horses.”
(Mr Klopp ought to take a look at the fixture lists from the early days of the 20th century when players would often play three games in four days – and had to travel by train and bus to get to the away games.)
So here is the first possible reason why British players get more injuries. Players who grow up and develop in other countries play fewer games, and as they move into leagues get winter breaks. That allows them to develop more strength and avoid the early injuries that can recur in later life.
Another possible explanation is diet. Although footballers in top clubs get put onto special diets to benefit them, following the revolution introduced by Arsene Wenger, this is not the case before they get to the top clubs, nor in their early years when they are living at home with parents. It is a simple fact that the traditional diet in some countries is a lot worse than in others, as is the consumption of alcohol among young people. It is the old point: the Mediterranean diet simply is better for the human body.
[slight pause in writing while I finish my plate of breakfast chips]
Both Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal has spoken very negatively about the lack of the winter break in England. Older players can cope with it, the problem is younger players who experience it can be damaged by it.
So if Arsenal want to solve its injury problem, the answer is to bring in more foreign players.
Here’s two other snippets of news from this morning.
Patrick Vieira has been appointed the new manager of New York City after the current manager was sacked for failing to get the club into the play offs.
And The FA, known for their financial incompetence and who have just made 130 people redundant, have quoted the price of £1,000 for an under 15 team to hire a pitch for two hours with an extra charge for the changing room. The pitch has no floodlights. They later said it was a mistake. Just like the mistake they made in taking Sports England money which they were supposed to invest in grass roots football, using it to pay their staff, and then claiming that they couldn’t use it to help youth football because of the bad weather. (They actually failed to do the work in the summer).
10 November 1959: Peter Nicholas born. He had started out with Crystal Palace as a youth player, and was part of their second division title winning team in 1979.
10 November 2014: Paul Merson unleashed a fierce attack on Arsène Wenger, claiming that Wenger had let the club down and should leave.
All the anniversaries for today are on the home page.