Reece James is all too familiar with how injuries can threaten to derail a footballer’s momentum. The Chelsea captain is regarded as one of the best young full-backs in Europe, but his career has already been hampered by injuries.
James has suffered from a variety of nasty issues that have restricted him from playing to his utmost potential. The Blues were even forced into signing a new right-back option in Malo Gusto due to his injury-prone nature. He even had an injury scare earlier this season as well, missing nine matches with a hamstring injury.
With that being said, Mauricio Pochettino appears to have cracked the code into how to build up his fitness levels and avoid the strain of injuries. James has been expertly handled in recent weeks and been allowed to shine against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
He hasn’t completed 90 minutes in a match this season, but is at least able to play to his best ability for around the 60-70 minute mark. James recently opened up to the Chelsea website about his tough luck with injuries over the years and how sustaining issues due to playing too many games as a youngster has made him more pragmatic.
He said: “There are times you feel things, but all you want to do is play. Then you push and realise something has happened. My body gave me a warning, but I didn’t listen. I’m more aware now when something is screaming, slow down a bit.”
James has also insisted that not playing 90 minutes of football regularly and taking time to recover from his issues has helped him slowly progress as a footballer and get back to his best, saying: “I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I definitely feel my strength and fitness building up again. Recently, I’ve been able to play consistently. I haven’t been able to play 90 minutes yet, but I’m training and playing hard, and pushing the limits every day to get back to my best level.
“I’m happy to be helping the team again as well. After almost three months out, it takes a while to build back up and find your form again. Some people think as soon as you come back you should instantly be at the level you left at, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to move slow and steady. That’s what I have been doing. I’m slowly progressing.”
James’ words could serve as key advice for young footballers who are possibly losing years of their careers by having to play over 50-60 matches in a domestic season. Young footballers are nowadays almost expected to set the standard by being available to play every single match, but that can come with severe repercussions.
Barcelona duo Gavi and Pedri can perhaps do well to listen to James’ advice to slow down a bit. The highly-talented midfielders have both started to struggle with injuries. Pedri has missed a ton of games in 2023 due to injuries caused by overworking himself, while Gavi also recently sustained a nasty knee injury that might rule him out for the rest of the 2023/24 season.
Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka should also take his national teammate’s advice seriously and probably slow down from wanting to play every single match for the Gunners, especially considering the aggressive fouls he suffers all the time.
Pochettino’s way of handling James is admirable, but he isn’t the one manager to take things easy with youngsters. Pep Guardiola, for one, has expertly utilized Phil Foden all these years to keep him fresh and available for entire campaigns.
The Chelsea captain has seemingly gotten a new view of his career with his injuries. He seems determined to be smarter with the amount of games he plays every season, which could play a vital role in extending his career to play until the late 30s than having to retire just after turning 30.