Papering over the cracks

by Joe Errington

If it was not for the climatic, three-way, finishes to the Premier League and La Liga, all eyes would be looking towards the World Cup. It is normally around this time the media frenzy starts, and one hot topic is who will be fit in time.

Remember injuries to David Beckham and Wayne Rooney before the 2002 and 2006 World Cups? Before they were on the back page every day for a month, few of us even knew what a metatarsal was. The constant coverage from the papers has two main, rather annoying effects.

Jack Wilshere InjuryFirstly, the old media ethos that no news is bad news; the need to have new information and publish original content  means that the story changes every day. This confuses matters, leaves us unsure of an exact return date and ultimately leaves many fans on edge.

Secondly, the sensationalist nature of the story; the media would have us believe that one missing player is the end of the road for a team. With all due respect to Beckham and Rooney, their respective teams contained Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand. Despite all the doomsday predictions, the ‘golden generation’ of English football could afford to lose the odd big name.

With several global superstars fighting to be fit in time, it is worth looking at the extent of their injuries, when we can expect to see them back and just how much they will be missed.

In Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, England, currently 11th favourites in the latest 2014 World Cup odds, have had two key players recently injured. The former, ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament during the North London Derby back in January, Arsenal fans will fondly remember his cheeky 2-0 gesture as he was stretchered off. Normally requiring a six month rehab period, his injury has caused most England fans to accept that the World Cup isn’t happening for him.

Jack Wilshere is a more interesting case though, the midfielder fractured his navicular a month ago following a tough challenge from Daniel Agger. The expected layoff of six to eight weeks means that, all going to plan, he can expect to be back in training by the end of April, and back to match fitness in time for England’s first game in June.

Both these players fit perfectly into Roy Hodgson’s favoured 4-3-3. Having fluctuated from a central position to the right-wing, Walcott seemed to find his feet on the right side of this front three, but who will be his replacement.

Falcao injuryHis Arsenal teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be first in line. As the Gunners have started to misfire towards the end of the season, the versatile winger has been intelligent, lively and unpredictable. The same could be said for Raheem Sterling, like Chamberlain he made a big impact upon arrival, but his pace and skill were let down by a lack of end product. After a quiet spell both players have come back with a bang, added vision and maturity to their game and will me a more than adequate replacement for Walcott.

Jack Wilshere has been a victim of his own success, Arsenals reliance on the young midfielder often meant he was rushed back from injury before he was 100%. It is important then that England give him time to recover his match fitness, especially considering their opening fixture against Italy at temperatures approaching 90 °C.

Recently England have adopted a Liverpool inspired formation which sees Gerrard sit deep as the poor-man’s-Pirlo. For all Gerrard’s merits, his lack of pace could problems and he will need to be complimented by two energetic, defensive minded midfielders with the creativity to add to the attack. Michael Carrick will be ideal cover for the Liverpool skipper, but playing the two together could allow quicker teams to waltz through the England midfield.

It would seem finding two players like this is a bit of an ask, but England have plenty. Jordan Henderson will provide the engine required to buzz around for 90 minutes in the heat of the Amazon. When chasing the game, this season’s breakthrough acts of Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana could add that extra spark, either way England have plenty of options to give Jack Wilshere time to recover.

Away from England, the most talked about player is Radamel Falcao. Like Theo Walcott, he suffered cruciate ligament damage in January, unlike Theo though, the Colombian will be sorely missed by his team.

The Monaco striker is by far Colombia’s best player, but there is more to a team than one man. The like-for-like replacement would be Jackson Martinez who has been on fire for Porto recently and attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

guiseppe rossi injuryElsewhere in attack the South Americans have plenty of options. The fan favourite, Teofilo Gutierrez equalled Falcao’s tally in qualifying, and the young  Luis Muriel seems to get better every game. Colombia’s problems lie elsewhere.

With all due respect, the team have the hallmarks of a Premier League club in the first season of a billionaire buyout. Think Robinho’s Manchester City or QPR last year; while stacked with attacking talent, their build up play was disjointed and predictable. And, in the wise words of Harry Redknapp, they lack quality in certain areas, Colombia’s defence is not made up of world-class players.

For coach Jose Pekeman, getting the outfit to gel is a much more important waiting on one man.

Finally, Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi. With a career plagued by injuries, in January the Fiorentina man suffered from, you guessed it, a torn cruciate ligament. Even though he is likely to have a similar return date to Falcao, Rossi’s history will require a bit more TLC.

Having scored 18 goals this season, it is likely he will be in the squad despite not being fully fit. A mirror image of Wilshere for England, who should the Azzurri turn to for the opening games?

When Puma released the new Italy strip featuring Mario Ballotelli, it would appear that the AC Milan man was on the plane. There is no doubting his quality, but his attitude, tendency to go missing in games and Milan’s horrendous season may cost him. Stephan El Shaarawy’s struggle to get into the mid table squad also rules him out.

Alberto Gilardino is a favourite of Cesare Prandelli. While he has experience and an eye for goal, he is slow and immobile. Italy though, have a long history of success with these kind of players, so the Genoa forward could prove to be the best fit.

While South Africa was predicted as being the tournament of superstars, Brazil could see some unlikely heroes emerge.

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