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When it comes to the crunch

Thanks to medical advances, horrendous injuries, such as the one suffered by Mancester United's Alan Smith, need no longer spell the end of a footballer's career.

Tony Cascarino, 27 Feb 2006

I’m sure all Hot Press readers will join me in wishing Alan Smith a full and speedy recovery following his horrific injuries.

Had it happened 15 years ago, his career in all likelihood would be over, but there have been such major advances in surgery that there’s every chance he’ll be back playing for Man U again next season.

Seven months after being told he’d be out for a year with a fractured fibula and tibula, Djibril Cisse scored one of the penalties that won Liverpool the Champions’ League. There were concerns in January that a broken metatarsal would rule Michael Owen out of the World Cup, but he’s back in training and likely to be playing for Newcastle again in a couple of weeks.

Most remarkable of all, though, is Richard Sadlier who three years ago retired from football because of a hip injury, but is now set to join Sunderland after undergoing two pioneering operations in the States.

Everything points to a similar happy ending for Alan Smith who, contrary to what some newspapers reported, was not booed off the pitch by The Kop. Yes, there were jeers when he was hit by Riise’s free-kick and went down, but as soon as they realised it was a serious injury the Liverpool fans stopped and then applauded him off the pitch.

I played at Anfield on numerous occasions and always found them to be a very sporting bunch, as were the supporters at that most maligned of clubs, Millwall. Given how many thousands of games are played every season, there are very few genuinely nasty incidents at grounds. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for very exciting back-pages or radio phone-ins!

Had the injury been career ending, United would have settled the rest of Alan’s contract, which is worth somewhere in the region of £2 to £3 million. The insurance taken out by clubs covers their investment rather than the player, so he’d probably have his own personal insurance. In my day, a 25-year-old like him who didn’t have any recognised physical weaknesses could get £1 million’s worth of cover for between £5,000 and £10,000 a year, which is peanuts for a Premiership player. As you get older, the premiums shoot up to the point where companies won’t insure the parts of your body you’ve had problems with before.

Having had three cartilage operations on it, nobody was prepared to insure my knee by the time I was in my thirties. The rest of me would have cost around £25,000 a year to insure, so I didn’t bother.

The worst injury I witnessed first-hand was my Chelsea teammate Paul Elliott shattering his knee against Aston Villa. I remember looking at him in the treatment room afterwards and thinking, “No way are you coming back from that!” It was in absolute bits.

Fair play to Chelsea, they kept paying Paul while he attempted his comeback, and have done whatever they can since to look after him.

Another sad one was Keith O’Neill retiring aged 27 with a back injury. We used to call him 'Speedboat’ because he was always zooming around the place. Mad as a March hare, but a lovely bloke who had the good fortune to marry a millionaire’s daughter. Unfortunately, I was never going to get by on my looks alone, which is why I went into punditry!

The lads forced out of the game I feel really sorry for are the ones playing in the lower divisions on two or three-month revolving contracts. Some of them are literally left destitute, which is something the Professional Footballers’ Association badly needs to address.

On a more positive note, I’m delighted that Steve Staunton has brought in seven lads who are either uncapped or were fringe-players under Brian Kerr. I’ll be very surprised if Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ireland don’t play at least some part in the game against Sweden, and the others will derive confidence from knowing that they’re part of Stan’s plans from the get-go.

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