There is no shortage of topics to pick from at this time of year. The domestic football season is coming to an end, England are having a right good go at the U-17 European Championships, and the UK will have representatives at this year’s Champions League final – and, no, not just Gareth Bale.
It has been a promising season for the Three Lions, on the domestic front. Gareth Southgate’s Manchester City clan have rocked the Premier League, albeit with help from other, less English players, and Liverpool’s English talent have a chance to shine in the Champions League final, against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid later this month. There have been inspiring returns to prominence for some previously relevant Lions [notably Jay Rodriguez and Jack Wilshere], and the promotion of youth talent in first team football too. We have seen Jadon Sancho nail down a first team place at Borussia Dortmund, Phil Foden emerge as a regular Manchester City substitute, and the Merseyside clubs take a shine to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominics, Solanke and Calvert-Lewin. There is much more where that came from too.
But the matter which seems to be the most pressing, as World Cup fever quietly unravels in every Englishman’s heart, is that excruciating worry that one of our best will phone in sick, and that that will be that until next time round. There have been some crushing World Cup injury blows for Three Lions fans over the years. Greaves, Rooney, Lampard. We’ve already seen that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be nothing more than a fan this summer, but today we heard of sick-note number two – Joe Gomez.
The Liverpool defender has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top but has failed to shake off his knock against the Netherlands in March. The twenty-year-old’s time will certainly come, and this will perhaps come as refreshing news to a few older defenders that Southgate has felt just haven’t looked up to scratch. Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling are just two. Jack Wilshere and Chris Smalling are likely to be the beneficiaries of England’s two casualties so far, although pessimists would assume there are plenty more injuries on the way in the coming weeks.
Of course, it is not just England’s players that suffer tournament-cancelling injuries. Only this week, Arsenal confirmed that France centre-back Laurent Koscielny will miss the World Cup with a six-month Achilles injury. The World Cup’s only other certain absentee so far is Tunisia striker Youssef Msakni. The forward has scored 25 goals in 22 games this season in the Qatari first division, but was ruled out of the tournament a month ago.
Beyond these players confirmed to be missing, there are many more stars still praying for a speedy recovery. France appear to be most unlucky so far, with fullbacks Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy both struggling with knee injuries. Kingsley Coman is another hoping to be back in time. Sergio Aguero, Fernando Gago and Lucas Biglia are all out injured for Argentina at the moment, and Belgium’s in-form striker Michy Batshuayi is out with ankle damage. Mohamed Elneny, Juan Cuadrado and Gylfi Sigurdsson would all be huge misses for their respective nations too. The host nation, Russia, have three injuries at the moment, including star striker Aleksandr Kokorin, and Spain would struggle up top without currently sidelined Alvaro Morata. Germany and Brazil will both have players in nothing like peak condition, and that is if some of them even travel. Jerome Boateng, Marco Reus and Manuel Neuer are crossing their fingers in the physio room, whereas the biggest loss would surely be of the last World Cup’s poster-boy – Neymar. The PSG star is making progress on his foot injury, but an injured Neymar is unlikely to star in a team already blessed with an air of phenomenal natural talent.
The World Cup will be a stunning spectacle. It always is. But we need the world’s best players to be firing on all cylinders for that to be possible. Let’s hope to see Neymar and co. on the telly, not sat in front of it.