The Premier League has always been physical and competitive but recent events have threatened to cast a dark cloud over the league’s hard but fair reputation. Players such as Karl Henry and Nigel de Jong have found themselves at the centre of controversy following some reckless challenges that have led to long-term injuries to key players. However, while the debate rages over whether players or managers are to blame, there is another element to this that is being ignored.
That is the role of technology and equipment.
Football and technology have gone hand-in-hand for many years now. Football has become a multi billion pound industry and sponsorship of the top players has become ubiquitous in recent years. Sports manufacturers such as Nike, Adidas, Puma and Umbro routinely battle it out to secure the most lucrative contracts with the world’s best players as they look to get their hands on a slice of the football revenue pie. In return, the companies bring out new equipment for the players to wear week-in week-out so that they get the maximum exposure for their product.
The game has seen a radical change from only a few decades ago. Speed, pace and power are now the operative words when describing the modern day game and to accommodate that, the sports companies are producing even more lightweight boots.
The two biggest football companies, Nike and Adidas both have a range of lightweight boots that are marketed for their speed. The newest examples for each company both weigh less than 200g for each boot.
The result of such lightweight boots means that players may forget that they are wearing studs (or blades in most cases) and launch into challenges without thinking about the potential damage they could cause.
Also, the blades on most modern day boots, coupled with the hard, firm pitches found at almost all Premier League grounds mean that the foot can easily stay trapped in the surface rather than releasing. This ultimately proved to be the reason for Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia’s horrific injury last month against Rangers.
Another contributing factor is the trend for most clubs to water the pitches before kick-off. The aim is that the surface water will create a slick surface for a quick, snappy passing game. However, the watered pitch will also mean that slide challenges are more dangerous as the wet surface would obviously cause you to travel further and quicker than on an otherwise dry one.
While boots have been at the centre of attention for the recent spate of injuries, player’s shin pads have had rather less coverage.
I have noticed a trend amongst Premier League players of choosing tiny shin pads. We all know that the shin pad is a mandatory piece of kit for a footballer but there is nothing that governs how big it should be. When I play football, I usually have a large shin pad which covers almost all of my shin along with an ankle protector to shield from any tackles just above the boot. But for the professional players, they just seem to have a small slip-in pad which barely covers half of the shin. Take for example Carlos Tevez. The Argentine striker frequently celebrates his goals by taking out his shin pad which reveals a somewhat flimsy looking plastic pad which is supposed to protect his leg from serious injury.
No doubt that the trend for smaller shin pads is a result of the importance of speed in today’s game. The larger, more cumbersome shin pad would be a hindrance to a player to whom speed is of the essence.
But speed shouldn’t come at the expense of personal health. If the league brought in mandatory rules governing equipment that made larger, more sturdy shin pads universal, then all the players would have to deal with the same problem and nobody would be gaining an advantage.
Injuries are part and parcel of the modern game but I feel that with a little regulation, they could become a little less frequent.
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