Spurs’ baffling injury silences

by Rachel Lara Cohen (9/3/23)

Above: Beth England in action for Tottenham Hotspur at Aston Villa. The Lionesses striker is just one of several players who are ‘missing’ from the North London side’s squad without a full explanation. Photo: Suvadeep Biswas for Impetus.

Working out which Spurs Women players are injured has been turning the club’s fans into detectives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Other clubs provide detailed updates. For instance, following the press conference with Liverpool manager, Matt Beard, Emma Saunders of the BBC reported that, in a series of tweets that Leanne Kiernan is “at least 10 weeks away” from a return and “had several setbacks in her injury return.” Additionally, that “Natasha Dowie is three-four weeks away. Five players to miss Arsenal, could be seven.”

Meanwhile, Aston Villa don’t just rely on the press reporting on these things but use social media to provide updates direct to fans on specific players, their injuries, and expected return.

In contrast, Spurs fans are treated to a mix of omission and vagueness. Leaving fans to dig through the words said and unsaid in press conferences or post-match interviews to make sense of what might be happening.

Unspecified ‘knocks’

Jessica Naz, the club’s 21-year-old winger who has scored twice this season, went off injured and clearly in pain during a game against Everton in mid-December. There was no comment at the time and no injury details provided in the two-and-a-half months since. In her 19th January press conference Rehanne Skinner commented that “Jess has obviously had an injury that’s kept her out last week, and she’s been partially training today. So we’ll see where she is by the weekend.”

It looked like good news when Naz’s name appeared on the team sheet a few days later, on 25th January. But that was a mirage, as she did not make it to the bench, rather she was seen watching the game from the third-floor viewing area at Brisbane Road alongside other injured players. In the almost two months since then, there have been occasional comments about Naz “a needing a little longer.” Meanwhile, her contract has been renewed. This is ostensibly unconnected but, in an information vacuum, the sparse content provided is imagined to connect.

As a general note, Spurs should be commended for consistently renewing contracts to cover players’ periods of recovery from long-term injury. Given the relatively low wages and precarity of the women’s game, this is vital. But in this case, and without information to the contrary we can only hope that two (the extent of Naz’s injury and her contract renewal) are unconnected.

Above: Jessica Naz in action prior to her injury. Photo: Spurs Women.

Beth England is sufficiently high profile that her absence is hard to ignore. This is perhaps why, unusually for Spurs, her injury was quietly flagged in advance of her first missed game. Rehanne Skinner in the pre-Reading press conference made what the uninitiated might have heard as an innocuous comment about England having “got a knock” in the game two weeks previously against Manchester United.

This lead fans to re-examine the interview England gave at the end of that game in which she had criticised the refereeing, commenting that “someone could have got injured.” Did she? Was it bad? Whatever it was she was not on the team list for Reading. Then, in the week between the Reading and Manchester City games, Spurs’ social media released a series of ‘training videos’ that appeared designed to show England fully involved and fully fit. But in her press conference Skinner said they were waiting to see how she was, and lo and behold, come Sunday England’s name was again missing from the squad list. What the ‘knock’ was and how serious it is remains a mystery.

Above: Beth England, who has been out since sustaining “a knock” against Manchester United last month. Photo: Spurs Women

We have had even less detail about Shelina Zadorsky, Spurs’ captain. Zadorsky played for Canada in the February international break. On her return, she was on the bench, as an unused substitute, against Reading. Perhaps, fans speculated, she was a bit jet lagged and after all, we have a lot of centre backs. But then she was left out of the squad that went to Manchester City.

There has been no information provided in any press conferences about the Canadian. There was, however, an elliptical statement in the run-up to the City game, that those more practiced at unpicking the nuances of these things, picked up on. Skinner said that there had been issues with “players” (plural) returning from international duty. As one of only two international players to not have had minutes against Reading (three if we include the suspended Eveliina Summanen), Zadorsky seemed most likely to be one of those.

Perhaps goalkeeper, Becky Spencer, is another. She has not started a game since Christmas having started most of Spurs’ pre-Christmas games when Tinni Korpela the team’s other goalkeeper had had an injury of some description (an injury that we, of course, only found out about retrospectively, when Rehanne Skinner announced that Korpela was “back” in January). Spencer spent the international break with Jamaica playing in the Cup of Nations against Spain, Czechia, and the hosts, Australia.

Meanwhile, during the international break, we also discovered Cho So Hyun was injured when she did not join up with South Korea, and instead won plaudits for buying herself and 100 Korean fans tickets to attend their games (she has since returned against Manchester City). Even more circuitously, information about Chioma Ubogagu being injured came when Ubogagu met a fan who tweeted that he hoped that she would be back from injury soon (which she did against Reading).

This lack of information is not new. Earlier in the year Kerys Harrop was out for almost six months with a back injury which meant she missed all the pre-season and early WSL games. This was again not ever announced by the club, but Kerys discussed it when she appeared on the N17 Women podcast.

In other words, providing little to no information on injuries appears to be club policy or at least a choice that it makes over and again.

Unspecified Absences

As well as the injuries described above there have been notable instances of first-team players simply vanishing for extended periods without the club providing information.

Going back to last season, Chioma Ubogagu disappeared from the squad in January 2022. There was no acknowledgement of her absence, and no information provided until May 2022, when it was announced that this was because she had received a ban (that ran until October 2022) due to a failed drug test caused by prescription acne medicine erroneously prescribed by a US doctor. As she has outlined, this was an uncomfortable situation for the player and the club had an interest in protecting her. But it left fans in the dark for months, with no information to go on at a time when the club was short of attacking firepower.

Above: Ramona Petzelberger last played in the North London Derby in September last year. Photo: Spurs Women.

In what we can speculate may also be a ‘personal’ situation of some sort, Ramona Petzelberger has done a similar vanishing act. She joined Spurs in the summer, played in several pre-Season games, and then played 25 minutes in the September North London Derby. Following that she has not been seen. The club has made no comment.

Does it matter?  

On the one hand, fans do not need to know everything about a team and certainly, not the finer details of players’ personal lives.

But at a time when the focus is on growing the women’s game, and when Spurs, in common with other clubs, widely promote new players signing, the club’s persistent obfuscation and occasional low-level disinformation, when those same players become unavailable, produces distance, bordering on distrust among the fandom.

One might speculate that Spurs’ management believes that it gives the team a competitive advantage if opposing managers do not know who will play. One could suggest that current results suggest this is not making much of a difference. Additionally, since in most cases, injuries mean that less strong players start or there are fewer options to change things off the bench, if anything not knowing this in advance may mean opponents over-prepare.

Maybe it is rather that the club believe that fans who think that their favourite player “might” play are more likely to attend or watch games. The problem here is that should this be effective, and fans attend to see a player when this player does not play they may feel tricked.

Above: Kit Graham returned in February after 15 months out. She was one of four Spurs players out with ACL injuries this season. Photo: Spurs Women

Tottenham have been exceptionally unfortunate with respect to the number of injuries sustained by key players over the last year (as discussed previously). Indeed, arguably, the ACL injuries to Kit Graham (another erratically reported injury, hopefully now fully back) and Ria Percival (still out) meant that Spurs arguably lost players who had been as key to the club’s 2021-22 successes as Beth Mead and Vivianne Miedema were to Arsenal’s.

If Bethany England is now out it will be a seismic blow, given her immediate impact and the fanfare that came with her transfer. But this does not become less of a blow for not hearing about it.

There may, of course, be instances, where it is in the player’s interests to provide less detail, and family/personal circumstances has been used for these elsewhere, including in men’s football, but the vast majority of times, providing information about injuries is innocuous.

Moreover, in the context of Spurs’ current run of form, and increasingly vocal fan frustration, a policy of transparency with respect to player availability and future prognosis, perhaps one modelled on Aston Villa’s communications, would increase trust, and perhaps mean supporters are more sympathetic to the constraints faced by the manager and club.

This article was originally published on Spurs Women Blog: https://spurswomen.uk/

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