It wouldn’t be a major tournament without at least one England player breaking down in the build up. The difference this year, with this FIFA clusterf*ck, is there is next to no time for repairs or recovery. Or even for the nation to pray upon a tabloid rag featuring James Maddison’s right leg.
After Gareth Southgate announced his squad on Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours before the final round of Premier League matches, it felt inevitable that at least one of the 26 men selected to represent their country on the biggest stage would suffer a twist, twang or a bang of some sort.
Unfortunately for Maddison, Southgate, and the droves who’ve lobbied for the Leicester star’s inclusion, it was he who suffered the misfortune to sustain an injury with the World Cup so ridiculously close.
Until Brendan Rodgers emerges from the dressing room to address the press at the London Stadium after Leicester’s 2-0 win at West Ham, we’re left to speculate over Maddison’s health. Those there to see him drop to the turf in the first half say the playmaker seemed to be feeling discomfort around the top of his calf or back of his knee. Apparently, Maddison first pulled up after taking a corner kick.
Prior to that, he seemed not to have a care in the world. Maddison opened the scoring for Leicester, sweeping home at the far post after the ball found him, as it tends to these days. He started the move in the midfield, and for 25 minutes, Maddison played with the assurance of a playmaker sure of his status as the best player on the pitch.
Injuries occur, sh*t happens. Players accept the risks when they take to the pitch. Though that they have been made to do so this week still seems desperately unfair.
Who’s to blame? FIFA first and foremost, obviously, for shoehorning in a World Cup after awarding it to a country which was never fit to host it at the appropriate time. Like everyone else, the Premier League have had to adapt, with the already-packed schedule tying one hand behind their back, and their handling of the postponements around the Queen’s death restraining the other.
This should have been a free week. Not just here, but across Europe. Spain gave their top-flight players a couple of additional days to ensure there were no games after Luis Enrique named his squad, and every little helps. But continent-wide, players chosen to represent their countries have been put in impossible positions by their clubs.
Could you blame any player who decided it wasn’t worth the risk? Doubtless there were some who checked their yellow card running total to see if a well-timed suspension might get them out of n awkward situation, and probably others reported symptoms of some ailment or other, just mild enough to shake off swiftly after the weekend.
After Maddison gingerly walked from the pitch, much of the focus was on his re-emergence rather than the game. His appearance upon taking his seat behind Brendan’s bench was described as ‘fairly relaxed’ and ‘smiling and joking’. Maybe he was withdrawn as a precaution but the fact Maddison, or any other player due to be in Qatar this week, has to be so cautious is unfair on everyone concerned.
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