Faster game begins to take its toll on players

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The Independent Football

Losing one England player to a broken metatarsal is unfortunate but, when three members of the squad suffer similar injuries, has the game become too physically demanding?

Losing one England player to a broken metatarsal is unfortunate but, when three members of the squad suffer similar injuries, has the game become too physically demanding?

Orthopaedic surgeons yesterday had different theories as to why Beckham had broken his second metatarsal, Neville his fifth metatarsal and Murphy had also snapped the second of the five long bones in the foot.

Angus Wallace, chairman of the National Sports Medicine Institute and an orthopaedic surgeon at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, said a broken metatarsal was a "relatively uncommon injury" so it was reasonable to ask whether over-playing or over-training was a factor.

"The game has become harder, no doubt about that and the footballers are fitter. That means the forces applied to the bones are more frequent and possibly greater.

"The normal response is for bones to increase their strength by getting bigger but this does take months or years and it could be that the bones are being over-strained."

Christopher Bulstrode, professor of orthopaedics at the University of Oxford and a consultant surgeon at John Radcliffe Hospital, questioned whether ever-lighter football shoes were to blame.

He said the big-name manufacturers were forever working on getting a stronger grip on the grass, which allowed footballers to turn faster. But this would put a greater load on the foot.

"I would question whether the new and lighter models they are using are putting more loading on the foot. It may be that the shoe designers are overreaching themselves here. You can load up the human body more and more by designing brilliant equipment, but it does seem to be very close to the threshold now with top footballers."

Professor Tom Reilly, director of the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at John Moores University, Liverpool, said the three players had incurred their fractures in different circumstances, which suggested it was just a run of bad luck. But he warned that the pace of the game may have now reached its maximum point.

"The tempo of the game has increased in the last decade, we have got evidence for that. Not just the players cover more ground, the ball does as well, everything is done at more speed.

"These metatarsal injuries have focussed attention on how vulnerable the lower limbs are in football. I think we have got close now to the highest tempo that games can be played."

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