London – Work is underway at Manchester United’s training ground on the construction of a state-of-the-art medical facility. When it opens we can expect it to be busy.
For the past two years, United’s Carrington home has resembled a casualty ward as much as it has a training ground, as a relentless stream of injuries to star players has undermined manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s attempts to stay at the top of the English game.
More worrying for the manager is that the trend shows no sign of ending. This week United have had to do without half a dozen players, including three central defenders. Along with Arsenal, they have more injured players than any other team in the Barclays Premier League.
What is more startling is the scale of the injury crisis that struck United last season.
Daily Mail can reveal that United suffered more injuries than any other team in the top division, a fact that becomes even more significant when compared with Manchester City, the team that pipped them to the league title on goal difference.
United suffered more than 30 different injuries last season compared with a Premier League average of about 20. City, meanwhile, suffered seven. Against this background, it is astonishing that Ferguson’s team got as close to lifting the Premier League trophy as they did.
United lost Rio Ferdinand to injury on three separate occasions, while younger players such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans spent far longer out of action than Ferguson would have liked. Indeed there was hardly a player in the United squad who was not injured at some point.
The club would probably argue that the long-term absences of players such as Nemanja Vidic, whose season ended with a knee injury in December, and Michael Owen, who struggled with endless muscle problems, have served to skew the figures a little. They also lost Darren Fletcher to illness from mid-December onwards.
On top of that, United play more games per season than most other clubs and have a large number of players involved in international fixtures.
But most clubs suffer long-term injuries each season and are packed with international stars. Bolton lost three players to serious problems before the season started but still had fewer overall injuries than their glamorous neighbours from Manchester.
Ferguson will be well aware of these statistics and they will surely concern him.
Premier League clubs spend fortunes on the prevention of injuries and rehabilitation of players. At every club, muscle pulls and strains are a weekly curse, and remain by far the most common affliction. Once again, this was an area where United suffered more than most.
Last season Daily Mail received information suggesting that the United manager was not satisfied with the number of injuries that his top players were suffering and that he planned to make changes to the club’s medical programmes. The club categorically denied both these suggestions and Ferguson has indeed gone on record several times to suggest he has one of the best medical teams in Europe at Old Trafford.
But the more the club’s problems persist, the more one of the game’s most thorough and obsessive managers will wonder: ‘Why always me?’ – Daily Mail