Manuel Lanzini made a welcome return to West Ham United’s first team last weekend at Liverpool but his appearance drew criticism from the watching media.
The general consensus was that the Hammer’s popular striker lacked match fitness; but amongst all the head-nodding in agreement comes the obvious question:
What exactly do you expect when someone’s been out for the best part of six weeks with a hamstring injury?
Manuel will likely be the first to agree that sometimes just getting back into the team is the easy part. The difficulty comes once the game gets underway and you soon find out that there’s a world of difference between full training and actually playing.
David Moyes brought Manuel off with a little over half and hour left; and that’s probably the most he could have expected on the day.
As we have said in previous columns on this site, there’s only so much you can do in training.
After being out for some time with an injury of any kind, the sharpness required for competitive match play can only really be regained through playing in games at the level of those that have been missed.
The fact that Manuel’s return was against Liverpool probably didn’t make all that much difference. In reality, the same amount of running needs to be done against any opposition as long as it’s at professional level and in competitive situations.
That’s the only way he’s going to get match fit. Playing in low-key friendly matches or training games with the rest of the squad isn’t going to help Manuel to reach the level of intensity required to get his sharpness back.
For someone who is looking to regain total match fitness, that only comes with playing against outside opposition.
The harsh reality is that you also need these games to include proper tackles; and sometimes even of the kind that usually result in somebody getting injured - and that’s hardly something that David Moyes is likely to encourage in training games!
Coming back to full fitness after a hamstring muscle injury can be tricky. In the final stages players are easily tempted to try to push that bit further in training and look to make that extra yard in terms of sharpness; particularly when faced with the possibility of making a return to the team.
It’s even more tempting for players to do this when they’re reading week-in week-out that they’re “nearly ready” and that their return to the team is “imminent”.
Of course it’s only natural for the fan base to be watching the reports on a daily basis.
There’s no doubt that Manuel’s presence up front has been missed and that hopefully making his return last weekend will be one stage further for the little Argentinian who started his career with Buenos Aires club River Plate.
But another issue for players to deal with in these situations that’s not generally appreciated can be the expectations of everyone around.
The players who are out injured will always be one of the reasons why teams don’t do well, and Manuel will have been hearing for the past fortnight that it will be a different West Ham United with him back in the side.
It was exactly the same when Marco Arnautović was injured; and with Chicharito before him. Both of them had to face the same sort of pressures that are now faced by Manuel Lanzini.
Seeing his name in the starting eleven will have given an immediate boost to Hammers fans everywhere; not to mention his colleagues in the dressing room; but it doesn’t help when the hopes of so many are placed on your return.
Working up to full match fitness isn’t easy; and sometimes I wonder if our expectations of players coming back from injury are too high.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just a case of getting the boots on again and going out to play; footballers are only human and it’s only natural that there will be shortcomings up to a point in the first few games back in the team.
Like Manuel Lanzini found after the Liverpool game, the last thing they need to hear is how far short of the mark they are.