Monitoring and managing the physical exertions of a squad pushing for Premier League glory is one of the most important aspects of the role played by a club’s backroom staff.
The concern for Premier League champions Chelsea is that string of players have, this season, picked up niggles that have gone undiagnosed before coming back to impact personnel at key times.
The roll of dishonour makes for grim reading. Frank Lampard was initially ruled out for two weeks in August with a minor groin strain. Nearly four months, one extensive operation and two aborted come backs later Lampard finally made his return at Tottenham, just before Christmas.
Didier Drogba, the league’s leading goalscorer last season started the campaign like a raging bull, only to see his performances become increasingly listless as autumn turned to winter and the Blues’ form nose-dived. Again, it wasn’t until November that Drogba was diagnosed with suffering from malaria.
Philipp Prosenik, youth team striker is another player under the care of the Chelsea medical staff to have been wrongly diagnosed in recent months. After an injury picked up in a youth team fixture had been identified as a non-serious ligament injury, Prosenik was treated for this phantom injury for ten days before the medical staff discovered the actual cause of the young Austrian’s injury was actually a cartilage problem. Prosenik is yet to return to action.
However, undoubtedly the worst miss from the perspective of the Chelsea medical team surrounds summer signing, Yossi Benayoun. Benayoun had to limp out of the 4-3 Carling Cup defeat to Newcastle with a suspected Achilles injury- the prognosis for which was initially vague. Within days the former Liverpool man had been allowed to travel with the Israeli national team and aggravated his injury whilst training.
Benayoun himself has been out of action ever since, and his frustration at being unable to be involved in first team action is understandable;
“The truth is that this entire situation is very strange. I had three MRIs and three ultrasounds and they all said that there was no problem, and it was just a small tear. I came to Israel ready to play and they told me it was a big tear.”
It would be harsh to condemn the medical team that did such an excellent job nursing Ashley Cole back to fitness ahead of schedule after the left-back fractured his ankle last season, and Michael Essien has spoken fondly of the treatment and support he has received in recovering from two serious knee injuries.
So what has changed this season? The squad cannot handle even a handful of injuries to their key players let alone the long lay-offs that have befallen Lampard and Benayoun, and is there a case of the club asking too much of the squad’s leading lights, knowing full well the squad isn’t deep enough to compete on all fronts?
The frustration of Chelsea fans is understandable, particularly as the impact of this stream of inaccurate assessments has contributed to the weakening of a team that have endured their poorest run of form for 15 years.
Where do the club go from here? Can Chelsea, with so many players approaching the final stages of their careers, afford for this level of incompetency to continue? Or, are these incidents simply isolated examples of misfortune that have befallen a club down on its luck?
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