Several players could face a potentially testing time in the next two to three weeks as West Ham United return to pre-season training this week.
There’s no doubt that it will be hard; particularly for those returning to training in East London after injuries sustained last season. In order to determine how well they have fared with rehabilitation to date, Slaven Bilić will want to see the results for himself and assess how much progress has actually been made.
Diafra Sakho and Angelo Ogbonna are two players who by their own admission expect to be fit for the pre-season period. Of concern to the coach will be the fact that these are only two of a number of players falling into that category.
Cheik Kouyate (wrist), Mark Noble (groin / abdominal), Pedro Obiang (ankle), Winston Reid (knee) and Michail Antonio who underwent hamstring surgery are others who have gone through different phases of post-operative recovery during the close season.
Andy Carroll returned early to the training ground in anticipation of the difficult physical times that lie ahead and will be looking to prove his fitness for the coming campaign.
Several of the players hopefully returning from injury have reassured everyone that they will be fine for the new season that lies ahead.
While their optimism is admirable, the punch-line is that all these players returning from injury will have to pass the test of being able to sustain total involvement in training before a return to match play will even be considered.
Their progress will still need to be fully assessed before the new medical team led by Gary Lewin are able to decide at what point they are going to be in contention for first team action.
Pre-season training is always a difficult period where injuries are concerned. Often injuries sustained at the back end of the season before won’t have recovered enough to allow full participation.
The first ten days or so of pre-season training at any club are always the most physically demanding, and at West Ham these are unlikely to be any different this time around compared to last year.
The reality of the situation is that any player returning from injury has to make sure that the return to full training is gradual.
However, it’s very difficult to ease yourself in during the pre-season period because this the stage where people are laying their own fitness foundations for the season to come.
So once again it’s a time of GPS tracking, heart-rate monitors and stop-watches. The coaching and medical staff will already have been hard at work with the preparations and planning schedules, session content and such like.
They’ll have taken into account the fact that several players will be joining in after a lengthy absence from full training and will have made some allowances for this.
In saying that, Slaven Bilić and co won’t be too happy if their main focus turns out to be on watching to see who is likely to drop out of the programme with injuries; or whether anyone returning to the squad has made that call just a little too early for complete peace of mind.
As the work-load intensifies, any injuries that haven’t properly healed will very quickly be identified. From a planning aspect, if some players are forced to drop out with anything other than minor niggles then it wreaks havoc with the schedules especially if the coaches have been assured beforehand that all is well.
Football clubs traditionally have a high injury rate in pre-season but often that’s simply down to inadequate preparation for the return after the break.
It's better now than it used to be, though. Players know nowadays that they can’t just go away and lie on a beach for a few weeks and then step on to the training pitch as though they had never been away.
Also, the close season as we used to know it no longer exists and clubs are now back in training so much earlier in the year than they used to be. West Ham’s players will have had roughly six weeks at the most for their pre-season break so those who have missed time through injury will need to make sure that they are all in decent condition for the weeks that lie ahead.
Their bodies are likely to be pushed to their limits as their response to treatment and rehabilitation will be formally scrutinised. The depth of their participation in ‘full training’ will depend on how well they have actually recovered from their previous injuries.
If there are any issues, then common sense will undoubtedly prevail; since nobody is likely to be asked to do anything that the new medical team wouldn’t think that they were capable of doing.
There’s actually going to be quite a bit of pressure on those players who are looking to return to the squad in the next couple of weeks as a result; particularly those who have earlier gone public saying they’ll be ready.
So for those who have been out for most of the season with longer-term injuries, earlier promises of being fit for pre-season will shortly be put to the test.