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    • Alan Shearer: How you come back from an ACL injury   A long, lonely and difficult road stretches ahead of Virgil van Dijk and there will be moments when the Liverpool centre-half will see no end to it. It is like walking into a tunnel and having no light to guide you through. I’ve been there myself, grinding through the days, weeks and months of rehab and recovery, aloof and apart from the rest of my team-mates, a shadow as much as a footballer. I was watching Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Everton in the Match of the Day studio with Ian Wright and as soon as Jordan Pickford launched that terrible tackle on Van Dijk and connected with him, I blurted out: “Shit, he’s done his ACL there.” The way his knee planted, the way he got hit and pushed back and the jolt that followed looked distressingly familiar. It’s something I have bitter knowledge of. First things first, this is a huge blow to Van Dijk and Liverpool. They’re both going to suffer. Across the Premier League, this has been a peculiar start to the season in terms of scoring and conceding goals. Liverpool have not been immune to that madness, but the Dutchman is not only the best defender in the world, he’s also the glue that holds his team together. He is a massive presence and they will only miss him. The good news is that Van Dijk will be back as good as ever, as quick and as sharp and proficient. An anterior cruciate ligament injury is no longer career-threatening as it was in the 1980s and before. I came back from mine and immediately had the best three goalscoring seasons of my life. I still have to manage my right knee with stretches and weights to keep it strong, particularly in winter when the cold gets to it, but since the operation, I’ve never had a problem. The less good news is that, for all of football’s innovations in medical treatment, sports science and fitness, there is no shortcut and the timescale has not changed; you’re still talking an absence of six months, minimum. As hard as it can be to get physically fit, it’s even harder mentally, because the thing you were born to do, that you have worked and sacrificed so much for, has been taken away. The hurt is in your brain. I’ll come back to that, but I thought my own experience with an ACL might offer some insight into what Van Dijk will be going through and the challenges that lie in front of him, as well as to provide a bit of reassurance. Mine didn’t happen in a challenge, it was jumping to meet a cleared ball over the top, one on one with John Lukic, the Leeds United goalkeeper, landing awkwardly and then feeling a strange pop in my knee. It was Boxing Day 1992 and Blackburn Rovers, my team, were at home. I’d scored two goals that day (and 16 for the season, not that I’m counting), but that was the end of my Christmas cheer. After my knee went, I actually carried on playing, but the pop became an ache and then finally a sharp stabbing pain beneath my kneecap and in the 83rd minute, I came off. It was similar for Van Dijk. He was obviously in discomfort, but he was able to walk off the pitch. That adrenaline pumps and then wears off. I went home in a leg brace and reported back the next morning to check on the severity. My knee was swollen and uncomfortable, but even when it had settled down, I knew in my own head it wasn’t right. I went to see a specialist in Blackburn but he wasn’t 100 per cent convinced that it was an ACL and so we decided that because of the swelling and everything else, we’d delay any surgery. That turned out to be a mistake. I tried to do a little bit of rehab to strengthen the knee up, to mask and disguise it. The last thing you want is an operation, so you explore every alternative. In the meantime, I was taking ibuprofen to ease the pain. I didn’t really train on it because it was nagging away at me, but I played in a League Cup tie against Cambridge United on January 6 and lasted 32 minutes. The ball came to me, I put my foot down to plant it and my knee collapsed. It was back to the local specialist, a minor procedure to have a look at my knee and tidy things up and then more rest. I came back into training and tried again, but it was no use. This time, there was no messing about. I went down to Cambridge to see a surgeon called David Dandy and his diagnosis was immediate: my trousers had barely hit the deck when he said, “Yup, you’ve torn your ACL, you need surgery and you’ll be out for about six months.” He didn’t even need to scan me. He did a pivot exercise on my knee, pulling and pushing and manipulating it to see if there was any movement. That was it. Mr Dandy was able to perform the operation a few days later, so in the meantime, it was back up to Blackburn with the physio who’d come with me, deliver the bad news to Kenny Dalglish, the manager, and then try to get my head around it. There would be no more competitive football until the following season. At that point, you just want to get it done because then you’re in rehab mode. The operation was just the start of my problems. I was supposed to stay in hospital for two days, but on the morning I was due to be released and driven back to Blackburn, I felt really unwell. The nurse came round and then a doctor and finally he got the specialist, by which point I was thinking, “Hmm, this isn’t good.” I had a blood clot, so they had to slit the knee open and squeeze it out. I was kept on medication and ended up staying in for two weeks. I walked out of hospital, using a brace, feeling uncomfortable but on painkillers and that is where the hard yards begin. You’re in the tunnel with no light. When I say that, I don’t mean depression or that you take it out on other people — I hope I didn’t do that — it’s just really, really bloody frustrating! It’s horrible when you’re part of a team and then kept apart from that team, when you’re prevented from doing the very thing you’re honed to do. It’s at this point the physios earn their money. The support networks at clubs now are sophisticated, with far more emphasis on sports science and mental health, but the physios are your day-to-day contact with the world. Some can be like agony aunts. Yes, they have a practical job to do, but it’s also about keeping the player entertained and active, to mix up the rehab to stop it becoming monotonous. You vent at them and let off steam. The low moments come when you see the other lads go out to train and you’re strapped to machines in the treatment room, doing what you have to do. You love playing, being part of something and you can’t do either. Keeping that focus is hard because the improvement feels so slow. You are given targets; to walk unaided, to get back out onto the grass, to kick a ball with no contact, then twisting and turning. Those little incentives are put in front of you. In the early moments, kicking a football is months down the line. Rehab is about swimming, endless weights, muscle-building, hamstring stretches, working on your balance by standing on one leg and then the other. It’s more regimented than when you play. You have to look after your diet more because there’s no physical release of two matches a week and burning off thousands of calories. As a kid, I remember reading stories about Bill Shankly, the architect of the modern Liverpool, completely blanking his injured players because they were no use to him. Perhaps that was a motivational tool. Clubs show far more diligence to their players now, but there is still a separation between the first team and the rest. It’s a group, a bubble, you share matches and training sessions and the stories and experiences that come from them. You can drive into the training ground with those players, eat with them, have a night out, be friends and colleagues, but in the moments when it really matters, when you have to go to work, you’re on your own. In good times, you feel envy. In bad times, you have a sense of responsibility and guilt about not being able to help, even though none of it is your fault. I’m sure that feeling of isolation is just human nature. At Blackburn, I would go to all the home games as a matter of course and occasionally I would travel away, too, just to change things up, to stay involved. At the same time, it’s always niggling away at the back of your mind about whether you’ll be the same player. Am I going to be as quick as I was? Will I be able to steam into a tackle like I used to do? Will I be able to leap as high as I could? There’s always a tiny bit of you asking those questions. Six to eight weeks after my major operation, I had to have another one, although that was always part of the plan. I had four staples in my knee and two were temporary so they had to come out, but there were no after-effects at all. My knee felt brand new and my body felt fantastic and having a daily programme of exercises and stretches for the rest of my career didn’t feel like so much of a hardship. The apprehension only goes when you’re back at full tilt in a game, when you’ve tested yourself out. I longed for that. I did bits of pre-season in the summer of 1993 and came on for 30 minutes or so in a couple of games and was sure I was ready. I was training well during the week, but Kenny kept holding me back, getting me involved in squads and then putting me on in matches for 10 or 15 minutes. I was banging on his door and asking him, “When are you going to put me in? I want to start.” My first goal back was against Newcastle United, the club I supported, at St James’ Park in the August, kicking down towards the Gallowgate End in the second half. I’d sprinted in behind (I hadn’t lost my pace), and then finished it off (I could still finish!), and that was my eureka moment when I knew it was going to be OK. That surge of euphoria made all the solitary days training with the physio worth it. I didn’t start a game until late September, but I felt great and my knee was strong. If the delay was annoying, then looking back it was the best thing that Kenny could have done. He’d seen and done it all before. He knew I had to be eased back in. The best pointer I can give to Van Dijk is to be conscious of that time, to accept it and be patient with himself. I’m sure he will. He comes across as a positive man and a brilliant professional, who will benefit from the support of everyone at Liverpool. There’s no getting away from it, he’ll have a hard couple of months, but the light will reappear and he’ll be back where he wants to be. I wish him luck.
    • We need to be ruthless. Even with VVD we were conceding a stupid amount of goals, our defence has been poor for a while, Trent has been below par often a weakness in our side defensively recently but nothing annoys me more than how we completely dominate sides but only just about win, we are strangely shite at finishing easy opportunities. Sides can get 3 shots and 3 goals past us we can have 40 shots and one goal. I will add the caveat "i love bobby" but his goal return now is wank, its not good enough regardless of what he offers elsewhere. Drop him, change his instructions do something because no matter how much you read Ariggo Sacchi one goal in about 20 games or whatever it is, isn't good enough. At the very least let's try something different be it personal tactical or his individual instruction.  
    • https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/54631788   Let the meltdown commence...
    • Talk of Eziquel Garaye on a short term contract. Free agent currently without a club. 
    • We need a win after the shit show of our last 2 games.
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