The sigh of disappointment echoed across the creepily named Westminster Waste Stadium on Sunday as defender Anita Asante fell to the ground clutching her right thigh just four minutes into a match that had offered her the real prospect of cementing her place once again in the Blues’ regular starting line-up.
The Conti Cup tie against Palace at Bromley Town FC’s ground had barely got underway, and the popular 34-year-old – who is equally adept playing in midfield as she is at the back – was making a rare start for Chelsea as competition intensifies for places in the team under manager Emma Hayes’ ‘Different weeks/different players/different rules’ rotation policy.
Clearly in pain, the Londoner (who helped win the quadruple with Arsenal in 2007, and is on course to play a role in the governance of the women’s game when she eventually hangs up her boots) was helped off the pitch by two medics.
She gingerly walked round three sides of Palace Women’s artificial playing surface after firmly rejecting the option of heading straight back down the tunnel to the changing rooms in an attempt to see if she could walk off the injury.
She was replaced by Jonna Andersson, who had a good game, despite not expecting to play such a full role.
An evaluation of Asante’s injury will be made this week, but if – as she suspects – it’s a torn muscle, she’ll have to use ice packs and take it easy for a while.
“I think it’s a torn muscle,” confirmed Asante as she walked cautiously across the pitch at the final whistle following Chelsea’s 3-0 victory, back to the changing room from the dugout where she’d sat and watched 86 minutes of the match. “We’ll see; I have to talk to the physio.”
She agreed that the disappointment of the injury was redoubled by the fact that she had been poised to play her first full match in nearly a month. “I was looking forward to coming in today, and getting those [playing] minutes under my belt,” she said, after warming the bench the previous weekend as a non-playing sub against her former side Arsenal in the league.
Asante was also on the bench for the first league game of the season, the 1-0 victory over Spurs Women at Stamford Bridge. She also had a good game, playing the full 90 minutes at the heart of midfield in Chelsea’s previous Conti Cup match against West Ham at Kingsmeadow – the game on Sunday September 22 in which she came close to scoring in the 12th minute, her shot flying just wide of the target.
“I’ve been training over the last few weeks, and I’m disappointed. Hopefully it’s not too serious. I don’t know if it’s a muscle tear or a muscle pull, and I can walk on it, which is a good sign,” she said after the Palace match.
“I’m feeling a little bit of soreness right now. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see; I’ll have a better understanding of what it is,” added the player, who is a vocal and powerful campaigner against racism in football.
She is being fully backed by Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, who believes her players have to take the long view on their fitness and playing careers, and be prepared for all eventualities.
“It’s about a whole season, not a single game, and it’s not about a single tournament; it’s all of them. Anything can happen, as you can see with Man City losing [Aiofe] Mannion this week,” said Hayes, referring to the cruciate ligament injury sustained by the Sky Blues’ defender in their Champions League game against Real Madrid – a player signed three months ago from Birmingham, and now about to undergo major surgery.
“With Anita going out of the team today, you can see that things change really quickly; you’ve got to be ready – that’s what I educate the players about… be ready!
“We don’t know yet [the situation with Asante’s injury], but I’m absolutely gutted for her – the whole dressing room will be gutted for her. She’s such a pivotal part of this team – she’s an experienced player who brings a lot to the dressing room, and I know everyone will be disappointed for her… but I don’t think it’ll be too bad.”
Asked by The Good Life if the artificial playing surface at Bromley’s ground had had anything to do with Asante’s injury, Hayes was adamant that these things rarely have a simple, isolated cause.
“Doctors always tell me that it’s multi-factoral what goes into injuries, it’s never one single thing,” said Hayes. “Who knows? I don’t know what the injury is yet, to evaluate anything within that. But I don’t think it’ll be too long.”