Gavi clutching his knee after suffering an ACL tear against Georgia
It's a sight all too common these days: a player attempts to change direction, but their leg awkwardly twists as their boot gets caught in the grass and they hit the deck, clutching their knee in agony. From Gavi, to Neymar, to Jurriën Timber, footballers have been dropping like flies this season with the most dreaded injury in sports: the ACL tear.
This isn't an anomaly: Ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament, which plays a key role in stabilizing the knee, are up significantly across Europe this season. Emi Buendia, Tyrone Mings, and now Joel Matip – to name a few – join the aforementioned names as players who'll have to endure a grueling recovery process that can take up to a year to return to full fitness. What's more concerning is that...
Injuries are up across the board
The midseason World Cup led to players spending an average of eight more days on the sidelines in the months following the tournament.
Injuries are up 15% in the Premier League compared to the August-November period of the past four seasons.
Serious knee injuries are an even bigger cause for concern in the women's game, where players are six times more likely to tear an ACL than their male counterparts.
The potential solution?
Anti-grip studs. Edingurgh-based designer Knox Chate has been working on a prototype for studs that do not embed in the ground, thus reducing the likelihood of a knee injury.
The studs function similarly to a ballpoint pen. The ball bearing on the bottom is designed to reduce rotational traction – the mechanism for an ACL tear – by allowing for smoother changes in direction and reducing the risk of studs getting caught in the turf.
While there is a long way to go before Nike and Adidas start selling boots with anti-grip studs, preliminary research is promising. A University of Stirling study showed that rugby players were able to change direction more quickly while with the special studs, despite a slight decrease in straight-line speed.
Zoom out: For the sport as a whole, it's clear that something needs to change. And while Knox's studs might not be the panacea to preventing ACL injuries, they offer a glimmer of hope that technological advances could one day keep players on the pitch for good.