Manuel Lanzini has easily been West Ham’s most consistent playmaker of recent years and is likely to miss the entire 2018/19 with a potentially career-jeopardising knee injury. But I am confident that if his recovery and rehabilitation are successful, we could see Lanzini return this year to be the player we have fallen in love with over the past three seasons.
Since Lanzini’s unheralded arrival from Al Jazira Club of the UAE Pro League, he’s been a revelation. The Dimitri Payet experience was exhilarating but short-lived and we are still awaiting the long-term impact of Marko Arnautović, but Lanzini has been one of the best West Ham players of the decade.
Since his summer 2015 transfer, Lanzini has scored 19 league goals [second only to Michail Antonio in the same time-frame] and claimed 10 assists [six last season]. During the last three seasons Andy Carroll has managed the same number of goals, with a slightly higher ratio of shots per goal and considerably less assists than Lanzini.
Lanzini improves the whole team, his pass accuracy has never fallen below 87 per cent for a season while playing in England. After his impressive individual 2017/18 campaign the media reported that Lanzini was certain to join Liverpool last summer.
He was called up to his first major international tournament, joining Argentina’s 23-man World Cup squad. Two years after Payet engineered a contentious transfer following a major tournament breakout, history looked certain to repeat itself. Sadly we missed Lanzini lighting up the world stage, as he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a training session before the World Cup.
West Ham fans were braced for disappointment this summer, but the news was worse than we imagined: Lanzini was expected to spend 15 months out, ending his 2018/19 season before it even began. For many players, an injury of this magnitude could destroy their career. Michael Owen was never the same after he damaged his ACL, aged 27, during the 2006 World Cup.
Benjamin Mendy tore his ACL last September and only managed to feature in 66 minutes of the rest of Manchester City’s season and played a very small role in France’s World Cup victory. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine examined how quickly players recovered from an ACL reconstruction.
They found that 72 per cent of the players returned to play after the injury, of those who returned, 85 per cent reached the same or higher level of football. Of course no two knee injuries are the same, but Lanzini’s relatively young 25-year-old body might have a better chance of a full recovery when compared to an older player like Owen was.
This can be seen in a couple of famous examples: in April 2000, 23-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooy completely ruptured his ACL, jeopardising a potential move to Manchester United. The deal was completed the following summer and van Nistelrooy went on to score 141 league goals in 218 appearances for the Red Devils and Real Madrid.
Alan Shearer’s experience offers further encouragement. He overcame the same injury in the early 1990s, without the modern advances of sport science and recovery. In 1992, Shearer snapped his ACL playing for Blackburn Rovers, a few months after the then 21-year-old broke the British transfer record. Shearer would fully recover and smash several Premier League records before an injury in his other knee ended his career in 2006.
Both van Nistelrooy and Shearer thrived after suffering significant ACL injuries at a younger age than Lanzini is now. Meanwhile, 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimović fully recovered from a similar injury last year.
However, Dean Ashton’s case shows that sometimes an injury to a young player can ruin the remainder of their career. Ashton shattered his ankle while on England duty for the first time in 2006; he was only 23 and had to sit out the entire 2006/07 campaign.
The 2007/08 season offered hope as Ashton made 31 appearances and scored 10 goals, but his career was all-but derailed after re-injuring his ankle in summer 2008. Ashton would make just four more appearances for the Hammers, before retiring in 2009, aged 26, after failing to recover from the original ankle break. Re-injury is the most serious long-term risk to Lanzini’s career.
When West Ham fans hear about long-term injuries to players we naturally expect the worst. Who can blame us after watching the frustrations of Andy Carroll, Dean Ashton and Kieron Dyer? Lanzini’s injury could be different. Based on his age and the examples of players at a similar age who made full recoveries, I think we can be optimistic of seeing Lanzini coming back better than ever.