“HE”S A CROCK!” That was the instinctive cry of the Chickern Runners as Boro’s ÃÂ£7m new boy put pen to paper and set his sights – somewhat optimistically it must be said – on taking his home town club into the Champions League.
But is he a crock? The perception is that Woodgate struggles to get through games, can’t play two games a week, needs to be rested before the big ones and that his fitness record has put off the big boys from signing an otherwise excellent player. The facts suggest that he played more games than the injury prone defenders of the Premiership elite.
Woodgate didn’t arrive until three games into the season (incidentally three games that contributed eight goals to Boro’s -7 goal difference) and since them has played 27 games out of 35. He was rested against Manchester City (and there’s another two to the negative tally) so in all he has been unavailable for just seven games. He is far from being an ever present but it is hardly a scene of carnage from Casualty.
That number of games puts him right up at the top when it comes to defensive appearances. Hard though it may be to comprehend looking through a prism of pessimistic fatalism, other top defenders also miss games. With all that streching to block, making crunching tackles and putting their heads in where it hurts iinjuries are inevitable and with the rules being tightened so that virtually all contact earns a booking they spend a lot of time suspended too.
Yet Woodgate’s strong suit is his positional sense and uncanny ability to read the game and anticipate how a move will unfold. That means he rarely need to make a tackle – and almost never a rash one – so he reduces his risk from injuries sustained in tackles and cuts down the prospect of cautions. He has picked up just two yellow cards all season which for a central defender is no mean feat.
Woodgate then has played in 27 league games – and of the entire defensive units of the big four only Ferdinand (32), Toure (32), Carvalho (30) and Finnan (30) have played more Premiership games and only Riise matches that tally. The rest of the collection of walking wounded and serial suspendees are well behind. At United Neville and Vidic have only played 24, Evra 20, and perma-crock Heinze has only managed 13; Chelsea part-timers Ashley Cole (21), Ferriera (15) and Bridge (13) have been in and out while even Terry – who no one would suggest is injury prone – has only played 23. At Arsenal Clichy (25) and Eboue (20) are well ahead of string of makeshift defenders and at Liverpool Agger and Hyppia have only played 21 games.
Yes, those teams also have European commitments and make well have a de facto rotation policy and Liverpool are contractually obliged to make five changes a game – but not so much that their Premiership career is put on a part-time basis.
And yes, Woodgate needs to be handled with kid gloves and spends most of the day after a match being massaged and stretching to prevent stiffening. He is not alone in that. And that pre-dates his one serious injury at Real Madrid anyway and was a feature of his training regime at Leeds and Newcastle. We have seen this season that regime is effective. Who cares if he doesn’t do doggies and cross country all day so long as he can put in silky, understated performances based on intelligence and experience rather than superhuman athleticism?
To suggest Woodgate is a crock doesn’t stand up. He has had one big injury. But at Boro he missed a few games with a deadleg then a few more when he tweaked a knee training with England but that hardly makes him Malcolm Christie. Plenty of quality defenders miss more games a season through suspension than that. It is not ideal because Boro missed him badly when he was out but neither does not raise dark imminent fears that the club will be cashing ion on the insurance money.
If he plays the last three he will clock up 30 games. At ÃÂ£7m that may not make him a bargain just yet but if that ‘injury’ record is continued over the duration of the contract then it will represent a decent return on the investment. Now we just need to get Boro’s million-pound-a-game defender Robert Huth up and running too and we are are in business.