Another game, another catastrophic knee injury to one of Everton’s key players. The sight of Wembley hero Phil Jagielka writhing in agony around the Goodison turf was a sobering one for the Blues, coming just a week after the ecstasy of that semi-final win over Manchester United.
Injuries are a fact of the game. Every player who takes to a football field across the world knows that, should fate deal you an agonising hand, an injury could put you out for weeks, months or even threaten your entire career.
Thankfully such serious injuries are rare, but that makes it even more galling for Everton fans when your look at what they have had to cope with this season.
The campaign began without talismanic Aussie Tim Cahill who was still recovering from a broken foot sustained the previous March – the third spell out with such an injury in three years. The likes of Mikel Arteta and Tony Hibbert also had operations over the summer and that coupled with Moyes’ inertia in the transfer market, meant the side began the season with just 14 fit senior players.
Worse was to come. Nigeria international Yakubu, who hit 21 goals in his first season at Goodison, ruptured an achilles tendon at Spurs in November, instantly ruling him out for eight months. With the likes of Louis Saha, James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe also suffering minor niggles, Everton found themselves without any strikers. However a fit-again Tim Cahill and record signing Marouane Fellaini formed an unlikely, but effective, strike partnership.
A key cog in the Everton machine was Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard had finally regained match fitness and was arguably playing the best football of his Toffees career when again the injury curse struck at St James’ Park in February. A cruciate knee ligament injury put him out for up to eight months – another hammer blow. In the same game Victor Anichebe was the victim of a horror tackle by Kevin Nolan and was also ruled out for the rest of the campaign with a knee cartilage problem.
But once again Moyes, who has never dwelt on or moaned about the injuries, rallied the troops again and found another system which garnered more Premier League points and FA Cup wins. It reminds me of Rocky IV, when our hero took on steroid-fuelled Russian giant Ivan Drago. Punch after punch battered Rocky’s face and chest, but he continued unabated and unmoved. Everton have taken each blow full in the face but have refused to go down, bravely fighting on battered and bruised.
The icing on the cake therefore, as a reward for defying the odds, came at Wembley last week when Phil Jagielka tucked home the decisive spot kick to send Everton to the FA Cup final for the first time in 14 years.
If anyone deserved that moment it was Jagielka. The former Sheffield United man has improved dramatically under Moyes’ stewardship, becoming a first-team regular and establishing himself in the England squad. He also deserved to line-up for the final on May 30th, his injury is devastating both for the club and the player himself.
To put it into context take Vidic, Ronaldo and Rooney out of United’s side, or Gerrard, Carragher and Torres out of Liverpool’s starting XI, and you will understand how important the injured trio are to Everton’s fortunes. The entire spine of the squad has been removed.
Now I know all clubs have to deal with injuries but few have coped so admirably and with such a small squad than Everton. The fact they sit comfortable sixth in the table as well as reaching the Cup final (meaning they have qualified for Europe for the third successive year) is testament to Moyes’ man management and the resilience and determination of his players.
Jagielka’s injury is massive blow but if one club can cope, it’s Moyes’ tough Toffees.
Photo credit to TorontoBlue.