Liverpool and England defender Joe Gomez could miss the rest of the season
Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Toni Kroos, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho. Just a few of the high-profile names who have spoken up recently about professional footballers breaking down due to the pandemic-influenced schedule. A couple of examples:
We’re simply puppets for both FIFA and UEFA… It’s simply pushing players to new physical limits – Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos
The boys are on the edge… you want good football? Give the boys a few more hours rest – Liverpool head coach Jurgen Klopp
Klopp said this before his central defender Joe Gomez suffered a nasty knee injury whilst on international duty. According to reports, his knee gave way without a challenge, and he collapsed in agony.
“What was upsetting was to see that Joe was in a fair bit of pain and the fact was there was nobody around him when the injury happened so I didn’t like that element of it,” England boss Gareth Southgate said. “We’ve just got to wait and see what the scans show and we’re all hopeful for him that it’s not what it might be. But it’s not a good situation.”
Gomez has had his share of injury woes before, so this is a brutal setback for him. Gomez had played pretty much every minute of Liverpool’s seven games (in 22 days) since the previous international break, and Southgate had given him an extra day of rest with this workload in mind, but still the player broke down. It’s also a killer for Liverpool, who lost their other first-choice centre-back Virgil van Dijk to a knee injury at the start of the season. Joel Matip is only just back from the treatment room. Full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is out with a calf injury. It’s a familiar story.
Of course Kroos and Klopp, and all of the others, are absolutely right. As Kroos implied, elite athletes have limits too. No matter if they are fitter and stronger than ever before, playing two high-intensity matches a week – regularly – is going to have consequences. But the show must go on. Sponsors and broadcasters must get what they paid for. And they pay huge money for unrelenting action, tournament after tournament, football from Sunday to Sunday again.
It’s the same in most professional sports where a lot of money is at stake. The NFL is way more perilous for players than soccer. Rugby, ditto. Something has to change. It’s not enough to look after the welfare of retired players, such as ex-pros with dementia or motor neurone disease (both illnesses that affect ex-footballers more than most) – they need more care when they’re playing, and it’s up to the likes of FIFA and UEFA to act now.