Diego Godín’s departure last summer opened the door for José María Giménez to become Atlético Madrid’s defensive leader. Giménez joined the club in 2013 and became both a man and a great centre-back in the Spanish capital, and there was no doubt that he was ready to step into a role with greater responsibilities. He duly became the third captain, after Koke and Sául. Given that four of the squad’s seven defenders were new faces, the presence of a reliable solider like Giménez was going to be vital this year.
But he hasn’t really been present. Injuries have prevented him from being on the pitch — and it’s not the first time he has found himself on the medical report for a sustained period of time.
Giménez picked up a thigh injury during Atlético Madrid’s home victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Oct. 22. He was soon diagnosed with a grade one right thigh strain and was expected to miss around 10 days. Now, 45 days later, he remains unavailable — and though he is hanging around the training ground, he’s once again expected to be unavailable against Villarreal. He could return for Wednesday’s do-or-die clash against Lokomotiv Moscow, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
This isn’t Giménez’s fault — just as it’s not Gareth Bale or Ousmane Dembélé’s fault that some humans are built differently than others. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for Atlético or for the player, though.
Giménez’s issue is that he has built up a long list of different injuries during his time with Atlético. In total, he has missed matches as a result of 16 different injuries, and 14 of these have been muscle injuries. Besides an ankle injury in 2017/18 and a toe injury toward the end of last season, the rest of the Uruguayan’s injuries have been muscular.
That is a worrying sign. That suggests a trend. You can’t predict for an impact injury damaging a toe or ankle, but you can predict that a player who has suffered muscle injuries throughout a career will suffer more in the future.
This jeopardizes Giménez’s progression as a possibly-great player. The 24-year-old has been one of the world’s best when he has played and he started the 2019/20 campaign excellently. In the 11 matches he’s played, Los Rojiblancos conceded seven goals, or 0.64 per game. In nine matches without him, they’ve conceded eight — 0.89 per game.
Availability often is the best ability. Godín was partly able to establish such a legacy at Atlético Madrid because he was almost always there, present in the big moments. He missed just 30 matches through injury during his nine seasons at the club. Giménez has already missed 55 in two-and-a-half years fewer. Most of the decade’s other elite centre-backs — like Virgil van Dijk, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos and Kalidou Koulibaly — have also been available for their teams almost every week.
There’s very little Giménez can do to fight this bad luck or to fight his body. But if he is to enjoy the career that we all know he is capable of enjoying, he’ll need to hope and pray that the injuries stay away.