The European governing body, UEFA, has today released a six-part documentary series, Equals, with the aim of putting viewers one-on-one with some of the top stars in the women’s game like never before. In it, some of the top stars of the game reveal how they dealt with missing the UEFA Women’s Euro.
Currently five of the players ranked in the top twenty for the Ballon D’Or are out of the game having suffered ruptures to their anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL), an injury that studies are beginning to show are far more prevalent in the women’s game than the men’s. It is estimated that in 2022, 57 players in the top six women’s leagues suffered the injury.
The highest profile is the two-time world player of the Year, Alexia Putellas who missed last summer’s UEFA Women’s Euro finals, going down with an ACL in her left knee just a day before the tournament started. She expressed how the realization of her situation did not dawn on her immediately. “It was really hard to take. I wasn’t really aware I wouldn’t be able to play until after my surgery. Many days went by where by body didn’t feel any different, until ten days after when I started to feel sad about the euro.”
Simone Magill of Northern Ireland is one of two players featured in episode three of the series who suffered the injury during the tournament. Having never qualified for a major international championships before, Magill’s tournament was ended after just 79 for her first game against Norway. “I immediately knew I had done something really, really bad. Why has this had to happen to me? I was just so angry and upset, as opposed to being in pain in that moment.”
“It is just shattering. You just think as an athlete. I’m out for such a long period of time. That’s the bit that gets you. Until you’re in that, I don’t think anyone can understand how tough that is.” Six months on, Magill is yet to return to the game.
Ali Monajati, Director of Performance at Crystal Palace, is also a specialist in ACL injury prevention in elite female players. He explained that “female players, depending on different studies, are three to six times more likely to suffer from ACL injuries and there are several reasons behind this. Part of the reasons are hormonal, some of them are anatomical, some of them are muscular The ACL injury in football is like a cancer in their life.”
Speaking just before Christmas, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was adamant that the increase in ACL injuries has nothing to do with female players taking part in more games. “This is not as simplistic as that. We don’t play anywhere near the number of games they do in the men’s game, but they don’t have the same number of this type of injury. It is a much bigger conversation. It’s about knowledge. Is the knowledge there to be able to deliver what is required to keep players on the pitch?”
“I think the ACL injuries is certainly something concerning and I hope we will soon find out what the reasons are for so many injuries”, concurred Nadine Kessler, the managing director of women’s football for UEFA, a former women’s World Player of the Year, who’s own career was prematurely ended by persistent knee injuries at the age of 28.
“Speaking of experience of injuries,” she went on, “I think people have no understanding of how isolating an injury can be, especially for someone who is used to being surrounded by people, your friends, 24/7. In a job, in a profession, that is very structured, very organized, very routine-based so it is a very tough time, mentally, of course for players.”
Kessler hopes the series which features many more top female players, such as Ada Hegerberg, Vivianne Miedema and Leah Williamson, will five fans an unparalleled insight to the top level of the women’s game. “I am incredibly grateful towards the players that shared their stories and emotions for this series in the midst of last summer’s historic UEFA Women’s Euro 2022. Because of that, Equals gives viewers unprecedented access with the top stars in our sport, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Fans will experience the game like never before, as well as better understand the exciting future that lies ahead for women’s football.”
Equals is out now to watch on UEFA.tv which is also available on PlayStation (PS4 and PS5), Hisense VIDAA Smart TVs, Android and iOS (mobile and tablet), Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV