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Untold Injury Review of the Season – Part 1, the International Injuries

By Dale Higginbottom

In the first of these reflections of the season just gone, I thought I’d start off with something light. During the season I’ve made a point of highlighting the International breaks and players that were injured and subsequently unavailable for club selection.

We’ve just had another round of international games and, other than the U21 games, they appear to be over for now. As yet it seems that there have been no major injury issues from these games, the only news was that Gibbs has been withdrawn from the England U21 squad for the tournament after picking up an ankle injury in a friendly against Norway. As long as it’s a fairly small injury, I think we’ll be pretty happy that he gets a full rest ahead of what could be a first season as regular left-back.

But back to last season. During the 2010/2011 season there were five breaks for international games. These games were played between the following dates:

1 – 30th August 2010 – 10th September 2010 (Between game week 3 and 4)

2 – 4th October 2010 – 15th October 2010 (Between game week 7 and 8)

3 – 15th November 2010 – 19th November 2010 (Between game week 13 and 14)

4 – 7th February 2011 – 11th February 2011 (Between game week 26 and 27)

5 – 21st March 2011 – 1st April 2011 (Between game week 30 and 31)

In addition to these there was obviously a World Cup last summer that had an impact on the fitness of some players and, if you remember back, some players were forced to play an international friendly match just three days before the start of the season. I noted the players that picked up new injuries, and were unavailable for club selection in the league games, directly after an international break and cross-referenced these with news reports to confirm the injuries actually occurred as a result of international games.

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Below is a list of all players that picked up injuries whilst on international duty, the number of league games they missed as a result, the international period in which the injury was sustained (P = pre-season) and a brief description of the injury.

Arsenal (7 players, 47 games)

Player # of games injured International period injury sustained Details
Vermaelen 32 1 Achilles injury picked up whilst playing for Belgium in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Turkey. He suffered a number of set-backs throughout the season that slowed his return
Bendtner 7 P Groin injury that was reportedly aggravated by appearances in the World Cup where he was played whilst carrying the knock.
Walcott 4 1 Ankle injury picked up in England’s game away to Switzerland. Luckily for us he only missed 4 league games and his recovery time spanned the two-week international break in October.
Fabregas 1 P Fatigue due to a lengthy involvement in the World Cup.
Rosicky 1 4 Picked up a groin injury in a friendly match away to Croatia
Ramsey 1 5 Groin injury, picked up whilst on international duty with Wales
Gibbs 1 5 Groin injury, strain picked up whilst training for international duty.

Tottenham (3 players, 23 games)

Player # of games injured International period injury sustained Details
Dawson 12 1 Knee injury sustained whilst on international duty with England during the Euro 2012 Qualifier with Bulgaria in September 2010.
Defoe 10 1 Ankle injury, suffered in England’s Euro 2012 Qualifier with Switzerland in September 2010.
Kranjcar 1 3 Slight calf injury picked up with Croatia kept him out of the match against Arsenal at the Emirates.

Man City (3 players, 21 games)

Player # of games injured International period injury sustained Details
Boateng 14 P, 3 & 5 Missed the first five league games of the season with a knee injury picked up in friendly match against Denmark in August 2010 which was aggravated by an airline drinks trolley on flight back to Manchester. He missed an additional game mid-season on the back of international duty and finally a knee injury picked up whilst with the German national team in March 2011 kept him out of City’s last 8 games of the season.
Richards 6 3 & 5 Missed one game after picking up a rib injury in England’s friendly against France and a further five games after tearing a hamstring in England’s U21 game against Denmark in March 2011.
Lescott 1 3 Foot injury picked up in England’s friendly with France.

Liverpool (3 players, 19 games)

Player # of games injured International period injury sustained Details
Agger 10 2 Missed ten games due to a back injury suffered in a game for Denmark in October 2010.
Kuyt 5 1 & 2 Shoulder injury picked up when performing a bicycle kick in training with the Netherlands in September kept him out for 2 league games and an ankle injury suffered against Sweden in October kept him out for a further 3 league games.
Gerrard 4 3 Hamstring injury picked up after Gerrard played in England’s friendly against France. There was uproar around this one as Liverpool were a bit miffed at the number of minutes Gerrard was forced to play. Ahh friendly matches eh, don’t we love ‘em.

Chelsea (2 players, 14 games)

Player # of games injured International period injury sustained Details
Zhirkov 13 3 Calf injury believed to be picked up during Russia’s game against Belgium in November 2010.
Bosingwa 1 4 Unspecified injury picked up on international duty in February 2011, kept him out of the squad for just one game.

Man Utd (4 players, 12 games)

Player # of games injured International period injury sustained Details
Ferdinand 5 P Knee ligament injury suffered at England’s World Cup training camp on 4th June 2010. He missed the first five games of the season as a result.
Evans 4 4 Ankle injury sustained in training whilst on international duty.
Park 2 2 Knee injury sustained in South Korea’s friendly match against Japan in October 2010.
Smalling 1 3 Groin injury picked up in training for England’s friendly with France.

So, fairly low totals really, which is to be expected considering the relatively few international games in a season. However, we can see that just by looking at our list, one injury can have a big impact on the totals and more importantly, club availability.

What else can we make from these tables then? Well firstly we can see Arsenal were hit pretty hard by the actions of the national teams, namely due to Vermaelen’s injury but the impact of Walcott’s four games out did also have a large influence on his form, which was particularly good at the time he picked up his injury.

I think we can consider ourselves pretty unlucky to have been hit by one big injury with Vermaelen and without that we’d be pretty much even with the others. I think the manner around the injury is the worst thing, where it is believed that Thomas was played despite carrying an injury and as a result his injury worsened.

United and Chelsea were, to a large degree, unaffected by the actions of the national teams. The “key” players made it through the season’s international games and their players’ injuries were not (as far as I can tell) down to poor decision making.

Liverpool on the other hand can feel a little bit pissed off with international teams. Firstly Agger was rushed back to play for Denmark, having missed Liverpool’s previous game and as a result was missing for the next ten Liverpool league games. Then there was Gerrard, who was forced to play all of an international friendly game and not the 45-60 minutes as was said to be promised by England.

Tottenham and City, whilst they had few injuries here, they can’t particularly complain about the manner of the injuries. For Tottenham, Dawson and Defoe’s long-term injuries were simply unfortunate to come in the same week and for City it seems that Boateng’s knee issue might be something a little more serious and not necessarily the fault of the German national team.

So, we can say that there have certainly been some unfortunate injuries picked up and some injuries that have resulted from poor decisions of international coaches. Whilst we can’t really avoid some injuries (ie. those that happen as a result of bad tackles and those soft-tissue injuries that simply happen unexpectedly) there maybe is something that can be done to reduce the severity of some of these. But what can be done? Here are a few suggestions that we’ll never see implemented but we can at least hope.

1. Fewer games

We all know the number of international games a player may play is always going to be an issue for clubs and clubs will never be happy unless all international games were scrapped but some movement towards reducing games would surely be welcomed.

Firstly friendly games could be reduced and whilst there will be a financial hit that the FAs will take, this could be balanced out by other incentives (see point 4). Friendly matches could be replaced by additional training session for the national teams

Secondly, some movement towards levelling out the number of international games would certainly help. Players from the lower-ranked national teams will over their careers play fewer games than the higher ranked teams. The introduction of a preliminary qualifying round for these lower-ranked nations (to be played in the summer two years before the competition) would give their players better international experience against similar teams and mean their players will play more games. This would reduce size of the qualifying groups and could actually make the qualifying games more interesting as a lot more would ride on getting the maximum number of points from each game.

2. Restructure the calendar

We have definitely seen some slight improvements in this area in that we have now seen most international games being played on a Tuesday, thereby giving clubs an extra day to train ahead of the Saturday league games but maybe a little more could be done. All league games could be moved to the Sunday directly after an international break and friendly matches could be better managed to avoid disruption. The August pre-season and the November friendly matches were particularly poorly planned and maybe need to be moved to a different point in the season.

Better still, if European leagues could agree to improved synchronisation in the fixture calendars we could see more international matches played during a winter break or during the summer where national teams will also get a longer period in which to train together.

3. Better refereeing

I know that Walter has talked about this ‘til he was blue in the face but players still need better protection from bad tackles. Whether these tackles are malicious or not is not really the issue but, bad tackles still happen in the game and need to be reduced. Better refereeing might resolve this to some extent but if the governing bodies clamp down on this more with fines and suspensions we could see some positive steps in the right direction.

And finally and maybe more importantly

4. Greater accountability

We’ve seen from Vermaelen’s and Gerrard’s injuries that some national team coaches have little respect for the clubs of the players involved and in order to stop some poor and irresponsible use of players we need more accountability from the FAs. Greater financial penalties for poor decision making and over-use of injured players would reduce the games some players are forced to play. We’ve seen in England the attendances of friendly matches has dropped dramatically so the financial benefits of hosting some of these matches must be minimal and therefore, if injuries are punished more severely, the risks of playing injured players could (and maybe should) actually cost the FAs more than they would take from match-day revenues.

In addition, a body of independent doctors needs to be appointed to mediate the issues between club and country. If an independent doctor passes a player fit then that would only help to reduce these cases of poor player management.

Like I said, FIFA and UEFA are never going to listen to this and the FAs will continue as before but maybe, as issues get more prevalent clubs will look to follow the actions of Ryan Giggs. By that I mean declaring bizarre, unexplained, short-term injuries that keep players out of friendly matches, not anything else that Mr Giggs may or may not have been up to.

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Note: As you know we accept articles from people who want to write for Untold. For the moment Tony Attwood is enjoying a holiday and will not be able to come online.  So if you have written an article and there is no hurry to see it published you can send it to the usual mail address. If you want to see it published in the next days you can send it to my mail address  walterbroeckx(at) and then we can see that it gets published as soon as possible. Walter

11 comments to Untold Injury Review of the Season – Part 1, the International Injuries

  • WalterBroeckx

    I still feel furious about the way the Belgium FA and their manager Leekens handled the Vermaelen injury. He had some troubles before the game in training but they did play him anyway. I think if the Belgium Fa would have had to pay the wages of Vermaelen during his absence for Arsenal they would never have taken the risk. So I would say let the national FAs pay the wages when a player gets injured on internatoinal duty.

    And it cost us a lot this season, this injury.

  • WalterBroeckx

    And by the way thanks for this article Dale and the weekly updates this season. It was a hell of a job. Looking forward to the rest of your reviews.

    About the refereeing point.

    Two examples. I saw the tackle on Van Persie from that Uruaguan twat. Those tackles are to be banned from football. Two footed lunging in to a player is in my opinion a criminal assault. The ref only gave a yellow card for this.

    Just the other day I stumbled upon the start from a game in the Concacaf Gold cup between Canada and Guadaloupe. In the third minute of the game a Guadaloupe player came in with a flying two footed frontal tackle towards a Canadian player. And he got what he deserved: the red card.

    It really is time for Fifa to get rid of refs like in the Urugay-Holland match and support the (Brazilian) ref from the Canada-Guadaloupe game.

    Throw refs who allow such tackles out of their category. YOu can take a Fifa ref his fifa badge away. Then give him a year punishment and then he can get another chance.

    We must protect the most important thing we have in football: the safety of the players and their legs.

  • Gf60

    Interesting article Dale. Thanks for all the hard work. As Walter says the likelihood of your recommendations being taken up is probably as great as my falling pregnant, or the septic bladder come to that! but at least you can rest on your laurels with the thought that in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king…(and maybe the two eyed man is Emperor) Well done.

  • Gf60

    Sorry. It wasn’t Walter who spoke of FIFA/FA not taking up the issue, it was you. Mea culpa.

  • Stuart

    Hi Dale,

    would like to throw my two pence into the fire if I may.

    I think the Arsenal medical & rehabilitation team are not as good as those at other teams. I always thought this and now your figures demonstrate our players take longer to heal with similar injuries when compared to Man U. For example, Rooney seemed to recover from his broken metatarsal in a matter of weeks which is brilliant when compared to Van Persie who was out for (I think) 5 months or Gibbs…

    Would it be worth exploring the ratio of games missed per injured player on like for like injuries?? a tough one but might bring some home truths out of the closet.

  • Stevie E

    @stuart, im not sure you can blame the medical team for the length of time it takes an individual to recover from a broken bone. In fact, id say the opposite is true when you consider we’ve had djourou, Eduardo and Ramsey all come back from career threatening broken legs. It may be our players take longer to heal because they’re not a physically strong as others, if HOU compare Rooney to Theo, its not surprising who can take the biggest knocks. You’re also making assumptions on the severity of the injury, because sure there are varying degrees or fracture or strain or tear.

  • Stuart

    @ Stevie
    Yes, it is a tough call but I just feel there must be something to it with the length of recovery and then many of the injuries re-occurring after a short period.

  • Stevie E

    @stuart – I’d be interested to find out if the injuries are a reoccurrence, or if they are totally unrelated but are due to being injured… As an example, I snapped my ankle tendons so was out of action for 9 months, when I next played I pulled my hamstring, after that healed and I played again I injured my knee. Before the ankle injury I was never hurt, after it my body never seemed quite as strong (I’ve hung up my boots now you won’t be surprised to hear). Maybe this is something Dale will/can look into (nudge, nudge ;))

  • Anne


    Maybe ManU is doping. That could explain their faster recovery time 🙂

    And before I get a dozen responses about “lack of evidence,” let me just clarify that that was a joke 🙂

  • Shard


    Not sure Rio Ferdinand would get the joke. He seems quite touchy about the subject. Too much perhaps 🙂

    Another factor to keep in mind when comparing with ManU would be the number of times their players have gotten ‘injured’ just before an international break comes along. Not to mention Ryan Giggs and his Welsh career & Paul Scholes retiring from England duty early. Surely that has been a factor in their longevity, and durability.

  • bob

    @Anne: (not) speaking of doping, as you’d know, US major league baseball has been rife with steroid use to quicken healing time. It would be naive (and you’re not) to joke away (which you’re really not) the suggestion that the quick-healers are mostly dope-free. Perhaps it depends on what the gambling syndicates prefer (now I’m “joking”). Where there’s mega-money, there’s doping. Ask Lance Armstrong, one of the golden boys-in-denial.