Footballing history is littered with players who have had their potential hamstrung by injury.
Ronaldo, Michael Owen, Jack Wilshere…Abou Diaby? The list goes on and on.
Though at 26, he is not quite ready to be lumped in with this group of ‘what-ifs’, Samuel Umtiti’s Barcelona career continues to be blighted by fitness problems.
These injuries have clearly affected the Frenchman with the defender posting an emotional message on his Instagram.
“I wish I could go back to the past, not to change things, but to relive the time when I was happy and didn’t know it.”
Now, it would be easy to dismiss this as ramblings more suited to a hormonal teenager’s diary than a 20 something professional footballer’s social media accounts, but the vulnerability of the message gives an insight into the mind of the injury-stricken star.
Umtiti’s fitness woes began almost immediately after making his dream move to Barcelona in July 2016. The ligament strain that ruled him out for a month in September was particularly frustrating as at his previous club, Lyon, the defender was seldom seen in the treatment room.
In fact in four years in the OL first team, Umtiti’s only enforced absence came when he picked up a hamstring issue in March 2014 – and he was only away from the field for a matter of weeks.
It’s been a very different story in Catalonia. Umtiti’s most recent knock was the eighth different injury of his Barça career so far. In total, these problems have ruled him out for close to 60 games in just four seasons so far. That’s 15 games every campaign. Truly staggering numbers.
During his early days at the club he showed great promise. Displacing Javier Mascherano as Gerard Pique’s centre-back partner, he was one of the club’s best performers in an ultimately underwhelming 2016/2017 season in which Barça could only win the Copa del Rey.
However, the label of ‘injury prone’ was already beginning to be whispered by the international press as he missed two months of the La Liga season due to fitness problems. This was largely the story of Umtiti’s Barcelona career over the next two seasons. Periods of promise punctuated by periods of absence as the cries of ‘injury prone’ got louder and louder.
These cries have developed into lung-busting screams this season, with Umtiti appearing on just 18 occasions in all competitions. The Frenchman’s most injury stricken spell to date has coincided with the Blaugrana defence being scrutinised more closely than any other period during Pique’s time at the club.
Barca have conceded 35 goals in 33 La Liga games this season, a quite remarkable amount considering they enjoy 67% possession on average. Much of this comes down to individual errors and sloppiness at the back and the composed, yet dominant Umtiti has been sorely missed.
The World Cup winner may be feeling sorry for himself as he faces another spell on the sidelines, but Barcelona will be feeling even worse. He remains their second most accomplished defender and the sooner he can shake off this injury plague, the better.