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Laurent Koscielny tears Achilles tendon

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This one was tough to write.

Atletico Madrid v Arsenal FC  - UEFA Europa League Semi Final Second Leg
The picture says it all.
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Injuries are the worst part of professional sports. Sure, losses are a bummer and getting eliminated from a competition stinks, but the sting fades over time. There’s something different about watching a guy get hurt. Seeing a player writhing in pain is a sickening, visceral gut-punch that makes you want to look away from the replay.

We feel the player’s pain. We see the agony on his face and because we’ve experienced pain, we hurt too. Once we get over the initial shock, we think about the career implications and the difficult recovery ahead, and it feels worse. And then the player is stretchered off and play resumes. It’s difficult, almost surreal, to watch somebody go through a potentially life-altering event to then refocus and reinvest emotionally in the match.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your bitter rival, your favorite player, or just some guy on the other team - injuries suck.

When Laurent Koscielny crumpled to the ground seven minutes into the match, I knew. His history of Achilles problems, the way he planted and went down, the frantically waving arm and the look on his face, I knew it was bad. I played centerback and am proud of my part-French heritage - I love Laurent Koscielny. I wanted desperately to be wrong. But the rational part of my brain was right.

Koscielny will miss the World Cup this summer. The recovery time for a torn Achilles is six months, at a minimum. He announced earlier this season that he was retiring from international play after the World Cup, so his international career is over.

But there are more depressing thoughts that I’m trying (and failing) to avoid. Did I just see Laurent Koscielny’s last minutes in an Arsenal shirt? Did I just watch his last game as a professional footballer? He’s under contract through 2020, but Achilles injuries are among the most difficult from which to return.

According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, nearly one third of athletes who rupture their Achilles do not return to play. Those who do make it back take more than a year to return to pre-injury levels of performance. Anecdotally, part of the reason Achilles injuries are so tough is that the tendon is responsible for explosive movement and acceleration. For an aging centerback who relied on pace to compensate for sometimes over-aggressive play (and was already starting to slow down), an Achilles injury is particularly devastating.

Add to that a new manager, a new system, and a rumored defensive overhaul, and the 32-year old may not have a place in the side when (and if) he returns. It’s tough to think that an injury might spell the end for an Arsenal regular who, at his peak, was among the best centerbacks in the world.

Obviously it’s way too soon to know anything for sure about the severity of his tear and how well he might recover. The flip side of the study referenced above is that more than two out of every three athletes who tear their Achilles do return to play. Here’s hoping he’s one of them.

Get well soon Laurent, we’re rooting for you.