Ex-footballer survey: ‘I’m in pain every day and can struggle to walk even for three minutes’

After Bukayo Saka’s man-of-the-match performance against Aston Villa in March this year, Villa manager Steven Gerrard was asked about the Arsenal winger’s post-match interview, in which he called for more protection from the referee “when the opposition is trying to kick me”.

“It’s part of the game,” shrugged Gerrard (referring to physicality and aggression). Saka, he said, was an “outstanding talent” but had to learn that there are some things in football you simply don’t complain about.

“I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips,” said the former Liverpool captain. “I’ve had about 16 operations, I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment. That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quickly.”

Gerrard has clearly accepted that a career in football ends in a lifetime of daily discomfort. Does that mean everyone else should accept that, too? And if he’s right, how many ex-pros are struggling to live life to the full, held back by bodies that won’t allow them to move freely or without pain?

The reality of what happens to players’ bodies after a career in football was one of the key findings from The Athletic’s ex-footballer survey, in which over 100 former professionals were asked whether they had developed osteoarthritis since the end of their playing careers. Some 36 per cent answered “yes”.

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