Is this the reason why Sheffield United are getting so many injuries?

Pitches are better, squads are bigger, medical teams more advanced … why on earth is it that injuries seem to be on the increase?

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 11:00 am

Sheffield United have had more than half their outfield players out of commission. Across the city, a team of first choices have been on the treatment table for much of the campaign.

All this despite squad rotation, tactical tweaks, supposedly improved treatment technology and ever increasing emphasis on fitness and conditioning.

This column has a theory - it’s the way the game has changed, the kind of football played these days. And which, to be fair, we demand and enjoy.

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I’m no expert and could well be wrong as the Blades become the latest to wrestle with this. But when I see the experts themselves scratching their heads, one opinion is as good as any other.

And let’s rule out hoodoos and coincidence for starters. Look around and the “injury crisis” storyline is commonplace, certainly not confined to the clubs of this city.

Training facilities have been questioned at both clubs. At one, the stadium pitch has been under the spotlight. But not at Bramall Lane where the surface is good and weathers well, though manager Paul Heckingbottom has publicly pinpointed the training pitch as a big issue.

So how is it that teams of old would plough through campaigns on virtual bogs and commonly remain unchanged for the duration?

Maybe some players turned out when they shouldn’t and under pressure from above; certainly there seemed to be a mentality of play on even when injured. But it can’t be that simple.

Having reported or watched the game since the mid-1960s, the one thing that has fundamentally changed is the emphasis on sheer athleticism.

The game is more physical, too, in the sense of demands on the body, albeit not in terms of brutality having been shorn of the hatchet men of old.

The result is that, in an era of attacking as a team and defending as a team, the expectation is for an all-out, all-action performance from every outfield player throughout the 90 minutes.

It’s about defenders doubling up as attackers, attackers closing down and “defending from the front”, about harrying, denying space and being in the face of the man on the ball.

This is never the way it was - in the days when teams seldom changed. The most creative players could take time out for a fag when the opposition had the ball or it was at the other end. Defenders had their tea break when their team was on top. There wasn’t the constant twisting and turning.

Now I’m not saying the football today is worse. Actually I think it’s better, the drama can be non-stop and there is a battle going on everywhere you look.

But when it comes to injuries, it seems to me there is a price to pay for this sort of entertainment; for this sort of total physical engagement as a fighting unit.

Not that it’s likely to change. Or that we would want it to.

However, there has to be a reason for these injury epidemics and it will be interesting to see how the game adapts to either preventing them, or accepting them, in future.