Football is a sport that is relentless and uncompromising. You constantly have to adapt to the situation with the smallest margins for error. The football world moves so fast that if you are not able to maintain a degree of consistency, you get lost in the wayside.
This is where getting injured for a long period of time can be a huge issue because you are not on the pitch to contribute - consistency is impossible. Football followers can only associate with your past achievements and eventually tend to forget and move on. This is the problem currently being faced by Roma and Netherlands star Kevin Strootman.
Two seasons back, Strootman was one of the best box-to-box midfielders, if not the best in the world. Tall, strong and powerful, Strootman had all the physical attributes required to be an elite midfielder. His tactical acumen was second to none and he could snuff out danger before anyone else could. For instance, in the 2013/14 season, Strootman made an average of 3.3 tackles and 1.5 clearances per match for Roma.
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It was not only his defensive reading of the game but also his attacking prowess that made Strootman so valuable to the teams that he played for. His ability to retain ball possession and spur attacks with a passing accuracy of 88% per game made him a difficult force to stop and a great asset for the Giallorossi. He averaged close to two key passes per game and even contributed five goals and six assists from midfield with a vicious left foot.
Strootman served as a perfect bridge between defensive midfielder Daniele De Rossi and attacking midfielder Miralem Pjanic. His all–round ability suited Rudi Garcia’s fast, flowing style to perfection and resulted in Roma going on a 10 game win streak and 17 unbeaten. His form at Utrecht and PSV was being displayed on the bigger stage and people were starting to take notice.
This success even transferred onto the international stage as he was made the youngest Netherlands captain by then manager Louis van Gaal at the age of 22. He had all the characteristics of a captain with an uncanny charisma and an ability to lead by example whenever his team was in a difficult situation.
However, tragedy struck when Strootman ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in a match against Napoli that ruled him out for the rest of that season and the subsequent World Cup. He underwent surgery and subsequently, Roma’s title charge that season collapsed as Juventus comfortably coasted to the title.
Nevertheless, it was to get even worse for Strootman as he got injured again just a couple of months after his comeback. It was found out that the first surgery on Strootman’s ACL had not “gone perfectly” and that the doctors had miscalculated the reparation by 1cm. He went under the knife again and is still yet to return back from it.
Strootman’s situation is one that is particularly unfortunate and belies the sheer talent he possesses. As iterated before, two seasons is a long, long time in football and Strootman has become a forgotten man in the footballing world.
It must be remembered that Strootman was the Netherlands’ best player in their World Cup qualifying campaign and even though the Oranje did finish third in Brazil, it could have been much, much more with Strootman at the helm.
Throughout the tournament, the Dutch lacked that bite in midfield that the 25-year-old would definitely have provided.
While the sheer excellence of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie papered over the cracks in the World Cup, those cracks were fully exposed during the European Championship qualifiers.
With Van Persie ageing and Robben also injured, the Netherlands looked lethargic in midfield and desperately missed Strootman’s dynamism. Daley Blind tried his best to cover for Strootman but could not cope up with the sheer energy and tactical acumen required for the role.
So, what lies next for Strootman? Can he make it back to the elite level that he was performing at? ACL injuries are incredibly difficult to come back from and have shattered many a promising career.
It is not the physical repercussions but the mental fear that can absolutely shatter the confidence of any player. Every touch you take feels likes it can be your last. To add this to the fact Strootman has suffered multiple injuries, it does seem like he is fighting a losing battle.
However, there are some things that do seem to work in Strootman’s favour. Despite having suffered so many serious injuries, he is still only 25 and still has the potential for a long, healthy career. In addition, he has the faith and backing of the Roma faithful.
It is a testament to Strootman’s quality that even after these injuries, Roma still want him to sign a new contract. At a time like this, support is absolutely critical and Strootman has that in Rome.
Obviously, it will take time for him to come back as it does for anyone after such a long spell out. It is absolutely crucial that Roma ease him back into the team. They already made the mistake of rushing him back once and do not want to repeat it again.
It remains to be seen if Strootman’s physical attributes are affected by this injury. But, he will definitely be considerably slower and will not be able to make up the ground as effectively as he could before. He will have to rely on that tactical judgment to the fullest extent if he is to make a comeback.
In the end, it would be a tragedy for such a promising career to be ended by injury. Strootman should not go down as a “what could have been player”.
For football’s sake, we should hope that Strootman is able to make it.