The Wengerism ‘like a new signing’ will never be greeted with more excitement than when Jack Wilshere returns to action for Arsenal next season.
The extremely talented 20-year-old missed the entire 2011/12 season with a recurring ankle problem after a highly impressive first campaign in Arsenal’s midfield. With the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, much was expected of Wilshere this year, as will no doubt be the case next season, but looking back at some other notable victims of long-term injuries, it might be wise to be cautious with your excitement.
The evidence has been right in front of our eyes this season with Aaron Ramsey. After a few promising appearances at the end of last season, it looked like Ramsey was well and truly back after a year out following his broken leg. However, perhaps too much was expected too soon, from the manager as well as the fans, as it became increasingly clear that Ramsey was struggling with being first choice again so soon. Towards the end of the season, a fine renaissance in form from Tomas Rosicky gave Ramsey a bit of a rest. Rosicky himself is a player who has had to come back after a very lengthy absence through injury, and it arguably took him another two years to rediscover his best form.
Ramsey is young and will get another chance next year, so it would be unwise to write him off yet. Especially as he had some good games this year, but he simply struggled with the amount he was expected to play. Hopefully there will be less pressure on him next year, but it remains to be seen if he will ever truly become the player he could have been.
A player who suffered a similar injury at the hands (or feet) of thuggery from another player, Eduardo, unfortunately never got back to his best. Of course, looking at the likes of Chamakh and Park now, one wonders if the Crozilian striker would’ve been a better option even if only at 60% of his abilities, but that’s another issue. The difference with Eduardo and Ramsey from Wilshere might be psychological – because their injuries were inflicted on them by rash challenges; there might be a fear of playing too physically. Wilshere’s injury was simply bad luck and a small injury that ended up getting worse, rather than being one big injury from the beginning.
Similarly, players like Robert Pires, Gilberto and more recently Thomas Vermaelen, managed to come back to their best from injuries that were simply accidents. Perhaps when a player knows their injury was a bit of a fluke they don’t play with the same fear that Eduardo and Ramsey might have, but instead come back even more determined to make up for lost time. Ruud van Nistelrooy is a non-Arsenal example of another player who managed to come back stronger, but then his Man United team-mate Alan Smith was the complete opposite, seemingly forgetting how to score goals since his injury.
However, these are all players playing closer to their peak age. There have been players who got injured at a crucial point in their development and never came back to achieving their potential. Before signing Aaron Ramsey, we were looking at Man City’s promising young midfielder Michael Johnson, who had enjoyed a very impressive 2007/08 season and looked a great prospect. Even as the money and big names poured in at Eastlands, Johnson looked very much like becoming a star name before an abdominal problem came along and wouldn’t go away. Years have passed now and we’ve hardly seen Johnson since. After one big injury, niggling ones have followed and he’s never managed to get a run of games consistently to find some form again.
At Arsenal, another youngster that look destined for big things had a promising career wrecked by injuries. In the 2004/05 Carling Cup we saw a glimpse of quick, skillful left winger Ryan Smith, who was very highly rated by Arsene Wenger and other coaches from the academy. Surprisingly, it was only in 2006/07 that he finally left the club, after a few loan spells and efforts to help him overcome his fitness problems, such was his potential. Now 25, having failed to make it at the likes of Crystal Palace and Millwall, he’s plying his trade in the MLS and has done some work as a DJ, football no longer being a main priority.
It’s scary to think that Wilshere could follow in the footsteps of Johnson and Smith. Sometimes you can be a really good player but just not have the luck.
Looking at these examples, it seems like players are perhaps more likely to recover from injuries later in their careers, whereas if they happen early they can seriously derail a player. Of course there are probably many other examples that I’ve not looked at, as well as other sports. Supposedly in tennis it is quite common for young players to get more injuries and struggle to recover, but I can’t claim to be an expert on this.
Whatever happens, we, as a club, need to be patient with Wilshere next season. The road to recovery is a long one, and he needs to be eased back. Last season he looked like becoming one of our most important players, but we may have to accept now that this might not happen for a while, or indeed ever.