Columnist

Pat Nevin: Injuries pale into insignificance

‘The medics are magicians and we all appreciate them,’ declares former Blue Pat Nevin in his column this week, as he considers treatment for those affected by the pandemic as well as the more regular experiences of a professional footballer in someone else’s care…


In the UK there is still a degree of shock following the government’s announcement of a national lockdown. London is the home of Chelsea and the city is bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 virus for the moment in the UK. Whatever the measures taken, it appears to be moving inexorably onward, as the rest of the planet understands only too well.

The idea is obviously to slow down its progress with most people understanding the thinking - keep the peak as low as possible, hoping to relieve the stress on the Health Service and its workers for when that peak hits.

So, with not a lot of great news going around and football remaining secondary (if that) in most people’s thoughts, sometimes it is up to the writer to lighten the load. Maybe I should move to a fluffier subject and generally try to take your minds off things. Unlucky then that I have decided to write about serious injuries to players.

The thing with injuries is that there is often a silver lining eventually. Recovery for most is likely and it is now quicker than it has ever been before. I was at the game earlier this season, back in the good old days when we still played Premier League football, where I witnessed Andre Gomes getting seriously injured while playing for Everton against Spurs. It was a horrific ankle dislocation and fracture which from my vantage point of about only 30 yards away and directly above him, looked like either a career-ending injury or at the least two seasons’ minimum recovery time.
 

That injury happened in November but he was back in the team by February. It was and is totally astonishing, but underlines that recoveries are ever-improving with modern medical techniques.

At Chelsea there were a raft of injuries this season before everything was suspended and there were dark whispers about the length and likelihood of certain players fully recovering. Have a look a Gomes however and it shows you the old prognoses of certain injuries can be wildly out of date.

We in the UK are only entering the first days of the lockdown and nobody is sure how long this planetary pandemic will paralyse the Premier League, but when it finishes it is certain that most of the players who have been injured will be fully fit by then and ready to start up again. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and N’Golo Kante will each have had a very long period to let their various problems clear up.
 

There are very few benefits for anyone during the current crisis and you wouldn’t crassly celebrate them anyway, but not only will these players be ready, willing and able when football starts again, they will also not have the huge disadvantage of having to catch up with match fitness to everyone else’s level.
Absolutely no one will have that mid-season match fitness right off the bat when a Premier League referee finally blows a whistle in anger once again, so they will all be on a proverbial, as well as literal, level playing field.

Everyone on the planet is looking forward to and hoping for a clean bill of health, and players will be feeling the same be it virus or injury. Most players do recover well from most injures, even the horrific looking ones. I can recall a former Chelsea team-mate falling and dislocating his shoulder playing for us in a first leg semi-final away up at Sunderland. When big Joe McLaughlin landed on that rock-hard, ice-bound ground you could hear the wail at the other end of the pitch, even above the 33,000 fans. It was a horrible injury but he came back much more quickly than anyone expected, though not quickly enough to save us from missing out on that cup final.
 

Footballers know they are fortunate to have the best and speediest medical care and are reassured by the fact the physicians have got their backs, or indeed their knees, ankles, legs or whatever.

Though you may bemoan the regular injuries when they happen, we always knew that no one got better care than us. You definitely miss that perk of the job when you retire! I recall damaging my cruciate just after I left Chelsea to join Everton. In times past it would have meant a year minimum out of the game and for a generation before that it would have been a career-finisher. Instead they had me back in the first team just three short months later because a top surgeon operated immediately and the aftercare at the club was superb.

The medics are magicians and we all appreciate them, maybe right now more than ever, which is something I had to relate to my daughter the other day, just to remind her. Anyone who has been reading this column for a few years may remember when I did a weekly quiz. I keep meaning to bring that back, maybe I will get around to it soon.

Anyway, back then my daughter was the one charged with randomly choosing the winner most weeks from the large haul of correct answers I received. The little girl has grown up and is now a first-year doctor standing on the front line at the biggest hospital in Glasgow, which is just about to be hit by the coronavirus wave.

She was out hill-walking with her friend in the Scottish mountains the other day (before the lockdown!) when her mate, also a medic, fell and suffered precisely the same injury as Andre Gomes earlier in the season. A dislocated and fractured ankle, with her foot now facing the wrong way. Sickening at the best of times, but very concerning in the gathering gloom way out in the wilderness with no one around.

The edited highlights are as follows; two hours on the ground, below freezing on the mountain, darkness falling, my daughter lying on the ground throughout to keep her friend warm and stave off hypothermia, some runners pass and guide the mountain rescuers, helicopter to hospital, surgery for her friend, leg saved and due into work the next morning for coronavirus care.

The only comfort I could give was reassuring her that her friend will almost certainly make a full recovery and in double-quick time, because Andre Gomes did and a whole host of players I have known throughout my career have done so too.

If nothing else, the current pandemic has put relative problems into some decent perspective. Even injuries pale into insignificance because of what we are all living through right now. A hugely heartening thing has been watching footballers past and present showing the way and giving their time, money, efforts and support to the community. Many have used their wealth, fame and celebrity in a hugely positive way and in an odd way it will help them just as much to be released from the bubble that pro football can inhabit.

For all the moving, funny and caring messages that have been shared online however, nothing moved me more than pictures of Spanish and Italian people in lockdown applauding the health workers each evening, as they would their football heroes. This time society managed to get the perspective right. These are the men and woman to truly celebrate right now.
 

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