This week the extent of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knee injury was revealed and he is set to miss the majority of the next season having seen the last one ended prematurely. That he chose to delay the announcement so it would not distract his Liverpool or England team mates as they went for glory shows the measure of the man as a selfless team player.
The injury came at an awful time for player and club. After a starring performance in the Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City, he was purring again against Roma before he went in for a big tackle in midfield. The Roma player got to his feet, but Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t.
Liverpool missed him in the final. A midfield three of Henderson, Wjinaldum and Milner was a bit too workmanlike and a player who is able to burst through and join the attack would have provided an extra threat, especially after Salah went off. But will we miss him next season? And will there be a place for him when he gets back?
Oxlade-Chamberlain benefited from a specific set of circumstances last season and, to be fair, took full advantage. He had moved to Liverpool saying he saw himself playing in the middle, but unfortunately for him, Phil Coutinho had decided he wanted to play deeper too. Adam Lallana had also been playing more as a central midfielder rather than out wide and was looking good.
Jurgen Klopp suggested the ex-Gunner might need more work in training before understanding what it took to play midfield for Liverpool. He ended up filling in out wide when Mo Salah needed a rest, though not scoring nearly as many goals. Everyone, including the Ox himself presumably, started to wonder if his Merseyside move was going to work out.
Then the chance came. Coutinho went to Barcelona, Lallana was struggling for fitness and form and the 24-year-old was given his chance in the position he’d been telling everyone he should be playing.
He never looked back.
But just like he took his chance then, now others will too. Lallana will have a full preseason and is looking sharp. Liverpool have bought not one but two central midfielders, with Naby Keita especially looking to have many of the qualities the Ox posesses and then some. And young Curtis Jones has shown why he is so highly thought of at the academy in the friendlies so far.
Oxlade-Chamberlain may never be the same player again, but even if he is the same, the Liverpool team he returns to won’t be. New players come in and new talents emerge. Time waits for no man and a year is an awful long time in football. He’s come through many challenges in his career, but this might be his greatest.