The Manchester United FC will most likely play injured star Wayne Rooney on New Year’s Day for their match against the Tottenham Hotspur FC. Despite an admission by manager David Moyes that Rooney ought to be rested for a couple of weeks to heal a serious groin strain, the team tweeted on Saturday that he would probably be in the lineup for January 1st. It is a move that would probably not have been made in years past, but the team is in a far more precarious position this season. With Manchester United just barely keeping pace in the top half of the table, and Robin van Persie still sidelined with injury, Moyes appears to have few options but to play Rooney while injured. It is a risky proposition. The chance of further, more serious injury is significant.
Rooney has been largely silent about his own feelings on whether he ought to play or not, at least in public. This has come to be the best course of action for players in this situation. Any statement in either direction is likely to draw criticism from people on both sides of the debate. If a player expresses caution for the sake of their career, they are called soft. If they agree to play injured, then fail to perform at a top level, they are criticized for hindering the team. If they play injured and succeed, there is often a worsening or aggravation of the injury which could lengthen the duration of the problem. Silence, at least, leaves the decision and responsibility on the managers or medical staff. Even this can get complicated. Rooney is one of the most popular personalities in the Premier League, and pressure on Manchester United FC to play him despite being injured will likely prevail. If he sustains further injury, however, that same popularity is sure to ignite the controversy anew.
In the United States (US) professional leagues, this debate over when to play or not play injured athletes is in the news on a weekly basis. It is a tangled mess almost certainly to become far more common in the United Kingdom (UK) as studies commissioned by the US leagues shed more light onto the long-term effects of sports injuries. There has already been debate in Parliament over whether or not government ought to be regulating procedures relating to head injuries in sports matches. Labor MP Chris Bryant made the call at the beginning of November for leadership on this issue from Parliament. This debate was taken up in earnest after Tottenham Hotspur FC goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was knocked unconscious briefly during a match and still allowed to continue to play for the final 12 minutes of the game after the injury. Had manager Andre Villas-Boas not already been fired, he would almost certainly still be under scrutiny for having made that decision.
Barely a week later, Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic left a game with a concussion, and kept the debate going. He was immediately removed from the pitch and kept off for considerable time after. It is unclear whether or not the injury would have been handled with the same cautious approach had the incident with Lloris not been so fresh in people’s minds. The pattern of under-reaction followed by over-reaction has been played out publicly in the US media on a weekly basis with debate about player safety kept alive by heavily publicized lawsuits. If some consistency of policy is not soon implemented, the issue of player injuries and accountability could soon dominate coverage of the Premier League as it has come to dominate National Football League coverage in the US media.
Silence may be the best option for the players at this point, but it is not an option for club managers and owners. This is a story which will only get bigger as the season moves on and injuries begin to impact the standings. As emotions run hot, the issue will continue to move to the forefront of public awareness. Some factions that are pushing for heavy reforms surrounding player safety may be just waiting for a high-profile incident like the one with Lloris to support their agenda. With Rooney likely to play injured for Manchester United on Wednesday, there will no doubt be a lot of eyes watching for something to go wrong with such a popular figure.
By Jim Malone