FREDDIE LJUNGBERG COLUMN

Injuries hobble some Cup clubs more than others

June 8, 2010
LjungbergBy Freddie Ljungberg
(Archive)

For the past 10 or 12 years, I've been playing in big tournaments, whether they be European Championships or World Cups.

In the past, I would usually catch a few games each year when my friends were playing, but I really never had much time to watch any other matches because I was playing and training. It will be a bit strange to watch all the games this time around, but that's what happens when you retire from international football.

Michael Essien
AP / Darko BandicThe absence of Michael Essien figures to hurt Ghana far more than a star's injury might hinder another World Cup contender.

I'll get to be a bit more analytical as I watch more games. I'll be watching to see if teams have more success when playing certain ways. I really like how Spain plays and I was glad La Furia Roja won the European Championships in 2008. When teams start having success playing the attacking style, more clubs around the world start adopting that style. The World Cup can be such a trendsetter for the way the game is played around the world.

Lately, a lot of big stars have gotten injured, and that is nothing new. Those who play for the big teams can appear in as many as 70 games in a year, while others on smaller clubs might play only 30 or 40.

When the summer and the World Cup come, it takes a toll -- players' bodies break down. At the end of the day, you want to see the best players perform. This has been a problem in the past and I know that it's been discussed a couple of times.

There have also been discussions about why national teams don't pay the club salaries of players who suffer an injury during national team duty. Clubs have to allow players to represent their national teams, but if a player gets hurt, he's out of luck. There are a lot of politics involved, but when it comes down to it, it's sad that so many players are hurt this year.

One example: The center back position is vital, and Rio Ferdinand and John Terry play a lot together for England. They know when to lift up the line, hold the line, tackle, cover. Losing Ferdinand is a big deal for the English because that partnership was so important.

The biggest loss, however, might be Michael Essien of Ghana. Nations that rely heavily on just three or four players are weakened more by the loss of a star than, say, Germany when Michael Ballack bows out. Ballack is a massive miss for Germany, but there may be more players with experience to pick from who can help cover up his absence.

For a player who has never competed in a World Cup, it can be quite daunting to hear that 2 billion people are watching. That's why I always like the bigger nations -- because they have been there before and have the experience. And, of course, they have great players.

I will follow Group G -- with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast -- very closely. I hope Sven-Goran Eriksson has Didier Drogba ready to play after his surgery. Drogba is a physical player who, if fit and able to freely move that arm around, gives Ivory Coast a very good side.

It's championship time, and players will do whatever they can to stay on the field. In the 2008 Euros, I was playing with two broken ribs, so I had to wear a special plate on my chest. It's not ideal, but that's what I wanted to do because that's how much I wanted to play for my country.

It's also important to hit peak form at the right time. Some teams are good enough to get out of the group stages even when they don't play great. Then they hit their peak form later on. When I played for Sweden, we were not Brazil, so we had to try to reach our top form before the first game.

One other thing I'm hoping for is that the U.S. has a good World Cup. If the Yanks get past their group (which I think England will win), anything can happen.

What has me excited is that 67,000 people watched a friendly between the U.S. and Turkey in Philadelphia. That says a lot about how much the support for soccer has grown in this country. I don't think you'd get that much support in many European countries for a friendly. It's great that people are talking about the World Cup everywhere we go.

With the MLS already growing, the World Cup is such a big thing because even more people probably will become interested in our league. I know a lot of people who got hooked four or eight years ago, and hopefully we can get some more people on board this year.

It's a great spectacle and I hope everything goes well in South Africa. I visited that beautiful country in the winter, and everywhere you turned, people wanted to talk football. But if you're going, don't forget your long sleeves -- it is winter there, after all!

Freddie Ljungberg is a midfielder with the Seattle Sounders. He also formerly played for Arsenal in the English Premiership and the Swedish national team. He writes daily at his own blog, www.freddie.speaksup.com.