It really hasn't been a great couple of months or so to be a Sunderland fan. Darren Bent's abdication, the arrival of the now customary mid-season slump, the total and almost inexplicable surrender of our defensive fundamentals, Jordan Henderson's worrying and seemingly relentless plunge into a downward spiral, officials up and down the country looking like they are participating in a "who can screw Sunderland most creatively" competition, and "despisegate" - yeah, it has been bleak. But the scourge of Sunderland's season has not been any of these, and it struck again over the weekend with the timing and callousness of the cruelest of pranksters. I am talking, of course, about injuries.
Injuries are nothing new in football and we would be remiss to try and claim we are the only team in the league that suffers them. Football is, always has been, and, despite Michel Platini's best efforts, always should be a physical and fiercely contested sport. Injuries, therefore, in the heat of battle such as the one Michael Turner suffered against Everton or Fraizer Campbell's against Manchester City all the way back in August must be accepted as simply part and parcel of the game. What is genuinely galling though is the spate of injuries we pick up without an opposition player anywhere near. Last November, Titus Bramble damaged meniscus cartilage in his knee during training which required surgery and a 2 month hiatus from first team football. This weekend, we were told by Steve Bruce that Bramble "could miss the rest of the season" as the knee has never properly healed and he needs "complete rest". Bruce went on to reveal that Fraizer Campbell, only recently back in training after serious injury, will have a scan after he "twisted his knee in training". So whilst Steve Bruce is bemoaning his luck, we really can't help but notice that there is something of a recurring theme or two going on here.
Firstly, there seems to be a lot of injuries occurring on our own training pitch. Darren Bent, Kieran Richardson, Craig Gordon, Bolo Zenden, and Nedum Onuoha can be added to Bramble and Campbell's names as players who have all sustained training ground injuries this season serious enough for them to miss a run of games. The odd freak injury can not be legislated for, of course, but the frequency, and often severity, of injuries that are happening to these highly conditioned professional athletes while in the club's care at a state of the art training facility are far from one offs. It just doesn't add up. Is it something the coaching staff are doing wrong? The medical staff? The groundsman? Fact is, the players are not being looked after one way or another by the club.
Secondly, there is just as lengthy a list of players carrying injuries clouded in secrecy and indecision by the club. Bramble is far from the first player we have been told "could miss the rest of the season" over the last few months. The same rhetoric was rolled out for Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole around the turn of the year, and we are hearing similar things about Craig Gordon right now. Gordon's visit to a renowned knee specialist in Sweden back in March resulted in him embarking on an "exercise routine", which may or may not work, and left his manager clutching to words like "hopefully" and wishing his goalkeeper luck. Call it a radical interpretation of the text if you want, but the whole thing hardly screamed "decisive action" to me. Is there also something to be read into the fact that Fraizer Campbell appears to have followed directly in the footsteps of David Meyler in seeing an aggravation of a serious injury leading to further complications? Following hot on the heals of the Lee Cattermole debacle last season and Gordon re-breaking the same arm last summer, another worrying trend is presenting itself. It must be noted here, that we are not talking about your average John Mensah-type players here. We are talking about players who arrived at the club without a history of injuries who have become injury-prone liabilities whilst under the care of the club.
I am the first to admit that this is all very speculative. I am no sports scientist and I have no answers here. What I do know, however, is that for the second season in a row, injuries have decimated our squad to a highly visible detriment. We have lost all cohesion. Our system has fallen apart. If our team was a fine Swiss-made fob-watch, right now it would look like someone had emptied all the cogs out onto a table, scooped them up in their hand, and just thrown them back randomly inside. In bad runs such as we are in right now, fans want someone to be accountable and a target upon which to focus their vitriol, so when Bruce bemoans the amount of injuries we have had to cope with this year, the inclination is to rain down more fury upon him and accuse him of making excuses. But it is an inescapable fact that injuries have, once again, had a huge influence in shaping our season.
I don't know if we are simply unlucky with injuries. I suppose it can't be ruled out. However it must now be the time for the club to start asking some serious questions of how they look after their players whilst in their care. Everything from the coaching drills, facilities, warm-up routines (let us not forget that we lost two players to muscle injuries inside the first 22 minutes against Liverpool recently), and ensuring the players have enough education to be able to look after themselves when away from the club must be looked at closely. Because, ultimately, learning how to do everything possible to prevent an injury crisis has to be a hell of a lot easier, and cheaper, than learning how to cope with one.