Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return to full fitness and the first team has been long awaited for fans and Jürgen Klopp alike.
While the 26-year-old has yet to be given a stretch of games in the first XI to showcase his unquestionable attributes, the vast majority around Liverpool Football Club remain optimistic the Englishman can return to the form he showed prior to his devastating knee injury suffered in April of 2018.
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It won’t be easy for Oxlade-Chamberlain, as he’s had his fair share of both major and minor lower body injuries throughout his career. Since 2013, the former Arsenal and Southampton man has torn his PCL, MCL, strained his hamstring, groin and thigh multiple times, torn a ligament in his knee, and torn his MCL again.
These injuries all pre-dated the torn ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL suffered following a sliding challenge just seventeen minutes into the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield. This caused him to miss the entirety of the 2018/19 season.
Most do not come back from a track record as torturous as his, certainly not to the previous level. His return has been staggered at best, with his recent omission from the England squad reflective of his lack of playing time.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was undroppable prior to his serious knee injury against Roma. He was undoubtedly in the form of his career — a mainstay in Jürgen Klopp’s scintillating side that were well on their way to taking Europe by storm.
To this day, Liverpool supporters would argue a 2017/18 Oxlade-Chamberlain is exactly what the current day’s side is lacking — a pacy and powerful midfielder willing to drive forward with the ability to both create for the front three but also pop up with a screamer himself.
There is certainly no denying the quality of Liverpool’s back five when fit, as well as the aforementioned front three — it’s the midfield that seems to still be missing that final piece to the puzzle in Klopp’s present league leading side.
Let’s take a look at a few prime examples of attacking footballers whose careers shaped out entirely differently following injuries similar to that of Liverpool’s number fifteen. Few have proven to bounce back with authority, while the majority could never quite reach the standards their former, unrestricted selves had achieved.
Perhaps one of the most naturally gifted footballers, if not the most gifted, to ever grace the pitch is Ronaldo — the original, Brazilian version is one of the most curious cases of injury-stricken footballers to date.
Blessed with the entire package, Ronaldo had the ability to beat a man with pace, bully defenders off the ball, and embarrass anyone bold enough to try and take the ball off him with his quick, mesmeric footwork that allowed him to pull off tricks you only see in FIFA.
He was the most lauded young player to ever put on a pair of boots, but his upward trajectory was marred following multiple significant knee injuries, particularly in 2000 when the Brazilian’s knee gave out on him while playing for Inter resulting in him missing over 12 months of football.
Ronaldo’s physiotherapist at the time noted the Brazilian’s knee essentially exploded, displacing upwards into his thigh. Ronaldo was never the same after, but that didn’t stop him rebounding most impressively by winning the 2002 World Cup, scoring eight goals in the competition, as well as winning FIFA’s World Player of the Year in the same year.
He certainly lost that explosiveness and strength that made him seem other-worldly, but his world class finishing remained intact as apparent by his resurgence in 2002. So while Ronaldo never was the same player following his knee implosion, he went on to compete at a world-class level through his prime, although he too was not free from setbacks.
On the complete opposite trajectory to that of Ronaldo’s, one could take a look at Everton’s current wide-man Theo Walcott as an example of a player who never fully recovered to a serious blow to his knee.
Once tipped to be the future of England and Arsenal’s attack, the now 30-year-old has found himself in an Everton side struggling to find any identity or direction, while arguably descending into obscurity as a player that has almost fizzled out with age.
At 17, Walcott was called up to the England national team to play in the World Cup, netting a hat-trick against Croatia just a year later aged 18. Widely regarded as the next big thing to come out of England, Walcott never fulfilled what was expected of him after bursting onto the scene in his teenage years.
It seemed like he was destined to be as dangerous in possession and in front of goal as he was with his pace as he skipped past opposition with ease. However, in 2014 Walcott suffered an ACL rupture at the age of 24, which ultimately signalled an abrupt end to any hopes that Walcott would reach the heights his early success had promised.
Perhaps the most familiar example for Liverpool supporters of a footballer whose career was marred through serious knee injuries is none other than former Liverpool striker Michael Owen. Much maligned by a portion of Reds fans, we can at least say he was at his very best while donning the red of Liverpool.
The Englishman, however, is another case of what could have been had it not been for a nasty streak of injuries. Owen himself admitted that it was a hamstring tear at the age of 19 that stripped him of that extra bit of pace that separated him from defenders.
What put the final nail in the coffin was an injury picked up during the 2006 World Cup when Owen’s ACL snapped after planting his kicking leg in a match against Sweden.
Owen went on to play for a number of big clubs including Real Madrid, Newcastle, and Manchester United before ending his career at Stoke City in the 2012/13 campaign where he featured a measly eight times for the Potters.
So much promise from a young age, only to end in a largely disappointing manner considering many, including Owen himself, felt that he would have ended up as England’s top scorer of all time, had he carried on from his Liverpool days.
So while it remains to be seen on which trajectory Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career will go, it certainly would be fair to have doubts when you factor in the improbability that the Ox will reach his 2017/18 level. Most who have suffered similar injuries would not be able to make it back to the sort of level Oxlade-Chamberlain possessed two seasons ago.
The good news is that Klopp doesn’t appear in any rush to throw Oxlade-Chamberlain back into the fire without first making sure he’s fully fit and firing to do the work in Liverpool’s midfield. The Englishman is in the perfect setup right now, as we have the best man-manager in the world that undoubtedly gets the best from every player he works with.
Even if he never gets back to the form he showed two seasons ago, we have greater depth now and the freedom to pick and choose when to unleash Oxlade-Chamberlain. We absolutely must remain optimistic as supporters, despite the fact that history does not suggest a return to the 2017/18 level.