Manchester United welcomed back their pesky striker, Wayne Rooney, this week while Chelsea is still trying to integrate its latest purchase, the dangerous Demba Ba. While the two goal scorers have dynamic feet and good speed in common, they also share something else they'd rather not—bad knees.
Rooney's Red Devils played well in his absence, but they're clearly a better XI with him at the front. Rooney is still not full-go, but the sprain he suffered on Christmas Day is well enough to let him contribute again. Rooney sprained his PCL in a training incident, but it is hardly his first knee injury. As far back as his days at Everton, he has had issues with his knees. Part of this is his style of play as Rooney is hardly hesitant to go over the middle. He revels in drawing contact, especially in the technical area where his low center of gravity helps him win many battles with defenders.
The PCL, or posterior cruciate ligament, is one of four ligaments stabilizing the knee. It resists forces that try to push the tibia (shin) back from the femur (thigh). This can be caused physically in many ways, but for a footballer it is normally most stressed at a hard stop when the foot plants and the lower leg stabilizes more quickly than the upper leg. Feel free to try this at home. Laxity or damage in the PCL is obviously a major problem for someone who plays in the style of Rooney.
His return to the pitch was successful and there were no apparent issues. Rooney showed no obvious limp and scored the only goal in the FA Cup victory over West Ham. His goal was done with a sliding tap, a maneuver that would not tax the knee at all. The game has to be taken as a major positive for Sir Alex Ferguson, giving the EPL leaders more depth up front, along with Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez.
Demba Ba also scored in Chelsea's last fixture, a disappointing 2-2 draw. Ba had also put up a pair of goals in his debut game for the Blues. His knack for finding the back of the net is what made him so attractive to the struggling Londoners, but his knees have long been thought to be the obstacle between Ba and stardom.
Ba famously failed a physical after a transfer was settled with Stoke City in 2009. He stayed in England, moving to West Ham on a contract that paid a per-appearance fee. The no-risk move was smart for both parties and he was able to establish himself in the EPL. Ba's knee issues started with surgery to fixate a fracture in 2006. That surgery led to tendon damage that had to be reconstructed in 2009. There is also extensive cartilage damage, causing Ba to have pain and swelling after training and games. This is often unpredictable and can cause his managers great headaches, not knowing if their striker is available until the physios clear him.
Despite this, Ba has had no issues since coming to England. He did well in his per-game with West Ham, had only minor issues during his stay in Newcastle and the well-regarded Chelsea medical staff did not hesitate to bring him on when he came available. The knees do require minding, but the rewards are well worth the risk and the workload.
Expect both Rooney and Ba to make plenty of goals as the Premier League heads down the stretch and as both squads play in European competitions. The work of the medical staffs may end up being as important as any on the pitch if they can help keep these two scorers on the pitch.