What is it about Arsenal and crocked midfielders? Santi Cazorla is going to be out till at least the end of the season having had another setback in his recovery from a damaged tendon. The injury first occurred in October 2016 during a 6-0 thrashing of Ludogorets in the Champions League. Yes, Arsenal fans crying into your teas, ‘Champions League.’ The mercurially two-footed midfielder has since had nine operations on his right foot and at a stage, suffered an infection that put him in danger of amputation.
Sad as Cazorla’s case is, he is just another in a long line of Gunners’ midfielders whose careers have been blighted by injury. There was Abou Diaby whose ankle was horrendously fractured by a Dan Smith tackle at Sunderland in May 2006, exactly five months into his Arsenal career. The Frenchman, touted as the next Vieira because of his prodigious talent, never flowered after that. An astonishing rate of injuries limited him to 124 league appearances in ten years at Arsenal, almost half of them coming over the two seasons – 2008-9 and 2009-10 – in each of which he was out for ‘only’ six weeks on the average.
Of another gifted midfielder, Tomas Rosicky, did Emmanuel Adebayor famously remark, ‘if you as much as said “how are you” to him, he would be injured for two and a half months.’ It was no laughing matter. Tomas suffered 39 notable injuries during his time at Arsenal, missing the entire 2008-9 season on account of a torn hamstring tendon that sidelined him from January 2008. An Achilles tendon, ruptured at Euro 2012, forced him to sit out the first three months of the 2012-13 season. He saw no action in the first half of 2015-16 because of a thigh injury. When his contract with Arsenal expired that summer, the hex followed him back to his boyhood club, Sparta Prague, where he was injured after only 19 minutes in the first game against Mladá Boleslav sidelining for the rest of the season.
Adebayor’s morbid joke might as well have been told with reference to Theo Walcott and of course, Jack Wilshere. Talent in spades but showcased more on the physiotherapist’s table than on the lush grass of the Emirates. The bit about talent in spades? Okay, Jack, stand up; you, Theo, do sit down. Oh dear, looks like both now need the physio after those exertions. Moving on quickly then, ahem.
Considering the not inconsiderable amounts that footballers earn these days, Arsenal’s midfielder travails raise the question of what happens to a Premier League player’s wages when he is out injured for long periods. The Premier League’s standard football contract provides the answer in its clause 7.
Where an injury occurs in the course of playing for the club (or any other activity that does not breach the club’s health insurance on the player), the player will be paid his basic wages for the first 18 months and then half of his wages for the remainder of the period of incapacity. For any other injury or illness, a player will be paid his salary for the first 12 months of incapacity and then half for the remainder.
The category of ‘other injury or illness’ has some haunting precedents. While at Leeds, Rio Ferdinand suffered a tendon strain in the knee when he put his feet up for an inordinately long period, watching TV. The lazy so-and-so! Bright-spark Darius Vassell, then on Villa’s books, drilled through his toe nail with a home power drill in the belief that it would relieve a swollen toe. Give the man a Nobel, will you.
On the continent, spare a thought for Santiago Canizares, Spain goalkeeper, who missed the 2002 World Cup after he dropped an aftershave bottle in his room and one of the shards severed a tendon in his toe. Another goalkeeper, the Dane Michael Stensgaard, saw his career ended by a shoulder injury he suffered while folding an ironing board.
Whether the injury is a ‘Player Injury’ (in the course of playing duties) or otherwise, the player will also be entitled to as much of his bonuses as are allowed, during incapacity, by his contract or the club’s bonus scheme. The player will likewise continue to receive sign-on fees, loyalty payments and any other payments guaranteed by his contract.
Permanent or prolonged incapacity may however bring a player’s contract to a juddering halt.
Clause 8 of the standard contract provides that if the player is permanently incapacitated by the same injury or illness for 18 months in an unbroken 20-month period, the club may end his contract by giving notice. The notice shall be 12 months for a Player Injury and six months in other cases. The club is obliged to continue paying the player his due during the notice period.
For permanent incapacity, the notice may be given on the day the player is declared permanently disabled under the Premier League’s accident insurance scheme. Alternatively, it can be served on the date the permanent incapacity is established by the club’s medical consultant but the player is permitted to seek a nullifying second opinion. For any other incapacity, the notice can be served as from the day on which the incapacity exceeds 18 months.
Instead of serving notice, the club may simply elect, under clause 8 of the standard contract, to immediately end the player’s contact by paying him the remainder of his wages and any other remuneration due him under the contract. The club must however continue to give him medical treatment during what would have been his notice period.
We must pause here to remember the fabulous Luc Nilis whose double compound fracture in 2000, in only his third game for Aston Villa, peremptorily terminated the career of one of the most storied marksmen of the previous decade. Fabrice Muamba, the midfielder who featured for Bolton (but portentously had an Arsenal youth career) also deserves mention. The Englishman from the Congo never played again, after having suffered a cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane in 2012 and being clinically dead for 78 minutes prior to resuscitation in hospital.
Sometimes, a player may be able to recover damages against the person who caused the incapacitating injury. Striker Dean Ashton, for instance, was able to secure a confidential settlement from the FA following a career-ending tackle by Shaun Wright-Phillips while on England duty. The standard contract compels a player when seeking such compensation to include, in his claim, the amount of incapacity pay he has received from the club. If the claim succeeds, he must then pay back to the club the lesser amount between the damages and the incapacity pay by the club.
Our narrative is nearly done but with Arsenal we started and to Arsenal we must therefore return to finish. Did I hear you say that a club that went as far as signing an injured midfielder – Kim Kallstrom – on a six-month loan needs deliverance? From what, or should that be whom, exactly? See, my friend, don’t you even dare think it!
*Dr. Ntephe is an English FA registered players’ intermediary.