Well Jack Wilshere lasted four competitive matches, or if you prefer 334 minutes, before an ankle injury ruled him out for a while but the only real surprise was that it didn’t happen sooner. And then after minor surgery on his left ankle in September, he made his comeback at the start of December with a five-minute appearance off the bench in the away win over Newcastle – only to damage his other ankle in training and has no date for return to action.
Hope and expectation often clash, but I thought Manuel Pellegrini had something up his sleeve; some kind of super-charged cryogenic chamber, a revolutionary new treatment perhaps; why else would he sign a player with a catalogue of appalling injuries? Please tell me if I’m making too much sense. West Ham has serious form where damaged goods are concerned and frequently sign players with long-term injuries. Is it sheer desperation that we sign someone, anyone as long as they can walk?
Paolo Futre is a memorable case in point. Having made his full international debut aged 17 a star was born. A precursor to Portugal’s golden generation, here was a winger who could feed strikers with the right ball at the right time but Futre’s slight build made him vulnerable to injury.
From the early 90s recurring knee trouble restricted him to 33 games in three seasons so why was Harry Redknapp so keen to sign him in the summer of 1996? How he got through the medical is an even bigger mystery. A 12-month contract was agreed on the basis that he proved his fitness. The break clause was instigated by Futre and deserved much credit for doing so.
But was it really worth signing a player with that kind of sick record? Unsurprisingly, he only played nine games and is best remembered for a tantrum over the number 10 shirt.
In 1999, Gary Charles was apparently signed with a broken foot. What’s a dodgy metatarsal between friends? But Charles had already lost two seasons at Aston Villa with a serious ankle problem. An attempt to reboot his career at Benfica faltered with a ruptured knee and hernia.
Even so, he was signed for a fee of £1.2 million but managed only five games over three seasons. It’s easy to forget that Gary Charles was a fine player who just couldn’t stay fit. He stands out more as the victim of Gazza’s vasectomy challenge in the 1991 FA Cup final. A lesson in bad karma maybe, but it’s another example of West Ham backing the wrong horse.
Freddie Ljungberg was signed for £3 million from Arsenal in July 2007. A four year contract worth £85,000 a week seemed a gift, especially to a player with an extensive record of injury and illness.
Ljungberg had been plagued by a long-running ankle injury and severe migraines. He also contracted blood poisoning caused by his large tattoos. Even more damning, he made only 216 league appearances for Arsenal over nine seasons, missing 126 games.
At West Ham, Ljungberg appeared in 25 league games and was subbed on 14 occasions. He clearly wasn’t up to the rigours of Premier League football anymore. But what to do with a highly paid, under performing footballer? The answer was simple but mightily expensive. West Ham had to buy out his contract to save money on their wage bill. Ljungberg was effectively paid £6 million to leave the club.
Hindsight is really no defence; an injury prone player, the wrong side of 30 should have been given a wide berth. But have we learned from our experience with Freddie? West Ham signed Andy Carroll from Liverpool on a 12-month loan in August 2012. An injury sustained playing for Newcastle delayed his first start for Liverpool by two months.
His career at Anfield failed to launch and made only 44 appearances in two years, and in 2012/13, Carroll missed almost half the season through a knee injury. West Ham paid a loan arrangement fee of £2 million and also covered his £80,000 a week wages. So having already spent £6 million on a player with fitness issues, we sign him permanently for £15 million on a six year contract?
Carroll has picked up a succession of injuries including heel, ankle, groin, knee and a fractured foot. There were even reports he damaged an ankle putting his boots on. The dreaded ankle injury struck again in a 2018 pre-season friendly.
Surgery and a three month lay-off followed for a player now cruelly dubbed chicken ankles. His impact is limited and tends to score goals that are more memorable than important. A quarter of Carroll’s 124 league appearances before his latest return were as sub; 33 goals would give him a strike rate of one in four; barely acceptable for a centre forward of his ability.
The cost of retaining him for six years is in the region of £50 million. A figure that barely seems credible but it soon stacks up; £28 million on wages, £15 million transfer fee and £6 million during his loan period. It’s hardly value for money as each goal has cost us £1.5 million.
Injuries are an occupational hazard and clubs have an army of medics, physios and dieticians to maintain fitness levels. But the use of studded boots on a grass surface make strains, pulls and tears inevitable. Such conditions can be properly managed, but significant long term injuries would surely trigger a red flag. West Ham’s fondness for signing such players beggars belief. It’s easy to criticise but this notion of risk and reward just hasn’t worked out.