There has been mention this week of Dave Mackay, the inspirational Hearts, Spurs and Scotland midfielder who died two years ago on Tuesday, aged 80.
Mackay is remembered for many things. He was a member of the Tottenham Hotspur side that, in season 1960-61, became the first club in the 20th Century to win the English League and FA Cup double. He became the first man to win the English League as a player and manager in guiding Derby County to the title in 1975. But above all he was a player who combined a delicacy of touch and precision of passing that was often overlooked with a commitment on the pitch that was primeval. And he maintained an unquenchable desire that every other member of his team should match it.
Mackay was, essentially, a leader of men. He operated with supreme effectiveness on a football field – but he would have brought the same gifts of character to bear whatever the environment in which he found himself.
In a contribution to The Guardian’s obituary two years ago, Julie Welch recalled a comment made about Mackay by the manager of that Spurs double side, Bill Nicholson: “If he had served in a war, he would have been the first man into action. He would have won the Victoria Cross.”
Nowhere was that iron resolve better demonstrated than the manner in which Mackay recovered from not one, but two calamitous injuries to his leg to resume a career that was to see him win another FA Cup winner’s medal.
His left leg was broken twice. The first time was when Spurs played the second leg of a European Cup Winners’ Cup second round tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford on December 10, 1963. A tackle from United’s Irish full back Noel Cantwell, which went unpunished, wrought traumatic damage, as Mackay recalled when interviewed by Jon Henderson in 2004.
“The leg didn’t get broken, it got smashed,” Mackay recalled. “When I go to Old Trafford each year, people still say to me: ‘I was there, I heard the crack.’”
Mackay – whose toe was left virtually touching his kneecap - never forgot, nor forgave, his opponent’s action on that night.
After sweating and working for nine months he managed to return from an injury that would have ended many another player’s career, and made a comeback for Spurs in a reserve game at Shrewsbury – where the same leg was broken again. Mackay called the tackle “diabolical”, but never publicly mentioned the name of the player who carried it out.
It took him longer to recover from the second injury – but by August 1966 he was back in the Spurs team, and the following year, as captain, he lifted the FA Cup at Wembley following a 2-1 win over Chelsea.
Mackay represents the extreme example of a footballer who returned to action against all odds. Thirty years on, Tottenham’s midfield contained another international player whose appearances were so often curtailed by injury that they earned the nickname “Sicknote.” Yes, we are speaking of Darren Anderton.
A terrific attacking talent on his day, he was without doubt very unlucky in terms of the number of setbacks he suffered in a Tottenham career that stretched from 1992 to 2004. But the nickname implied that he was sometimes more ready to err on the side of caution than a player such as, say, Dave Mackay. Although that, in fairness, could be said of any player.
The stats show that Anderton managed 299 appearances for Spurs over 12 seasons – an average of just under 26 a season. Not spectacularly shy of Mackay’s figure, as it happens – the Scotsman made 268 appearances for Spurs in just over nine full seasons, giving him an average per season just shy of 30 games.
But one couldn’t doubt it was only injuries as serious as the ones Mackay suffered that could have prevented him from taking to the pitch. In the historic 1960-61 season, for instance, he played in 37 of Tottenham’s 42 League games.
Whether Anderton could, or should have played more often is no more than a matter of conjecture. What is certain, however, is that Spurs will have shelled out a fortune on his wages as he sat on the sidelines.
Injuries are a part of football, always have been, always will be. And a research project released this week has shone a light on the levels of payment to injured Premier League players over the last three seasons, on which clubs and players appear to be most injury-prone, and on the overall number of days being lost to injury.
The research, interestingly entitled Sick Notes, has been produced by Bigfreebet.com, which has analysed injury data provided by physioroom.com and collated player wage data through “trusted sources.”
Manchester United are said to have spent most on wages to injured players over this time – a total of £52,514,709, closely followed by Manchester City, for whom the corresponding figure is £48,376,000.
But this perhaps tells us more about the level of wages than the level of injury.
The most apparently injury-prone club – and this despite the fact that they were not even in the Premier League last season – are Newcastle United, whose players have missed 5,172 days through injury, with the unfortunate Curtis Good, absent for 501 days, topping their individual list.
Everton are second in this unhappy table, with a total of 4283 days missed, to which Bryan Oviedo contributed 454; next come Liverpool, with 4153 days missed, 492 of which involved Jon Flanagan; Arsenal, with 4131 and Danny Welbeck missing 354; and Manchester United, with 4096 and Luke Shaw missing 449.
Jay Rodriguez of Southampton tops the individual list with 549. Other names include West Ham’s Andy Carroll, who has missed 428 days, and Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, whose individual total is 340.
The Premier League team coming out best in this table are Chelsea, with 1499 days missed, 135 of which involved Radamel Falcao.
But the third section of the research offers encouragement for all club supporters.
According to its figures, the overall amount of injuries among Premier League sides is falling dramatically.
Days missed through injuries have consistently fallen year on year, from 31,228 days in the 2014/15 season, to 12,907 in the 2016/17 season - a decrease of 59%.
So the good news to hang onto is this – at this rate, by season 2020-21, there should be no injuries at all to any Premier League players.
For a full breakdown click here: https://www.bigfreebet.com/sick-notes/