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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK

Thumbs down for the emperor

By James Blears
BBC Sport Online, Mexico City

Veteran Mexican defender Claudio Suarez has just two chances of playing in this World Cup - slim and none - and slim is out of town.

That is the considered opinion of Dr Roberto Somellera, who is one of the most distinguished orthopaedic surgeons in Latin America.

Suarez, 33, nicknamed "the emperor", fractured his right leg in training just over a month ago in a practice session prior to the friendly against the United States.

" I have not lost hope of playing "
Claudio Suarez

He underwent a 45-minute operation in the North Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio, where a titanium plate was attached to the damaged bone.

On Monday he went back there and received the medical thumbs-up from the doctors, who advised him that the fracture had healed.

Suarez was naturally delighted.

"I want to play. I have not lost hope of playing. When you've got faith and confidence everything is possible, and my dream is reborn," he said.

But, while faith has sometimes moved mountains, it has less often been as successful in rebuilding wasted muscle, which diminishes under plaster.

Even after the caste has been removed, the degeneration process continues while little or no weight-bearing stress can be applied.

"In these circumstances, the muscle which moves the knee shrinks about one millimetre per day with this inactivity," Dr Somellera said.

"With physiotherapy, it will take an ordinary man four to six weeks to build it back up.

"With a strong, fit soccer player like Claudio, it will still take three to four weeks.

"The bone also needs ample recovery time, which in my opinion takes at least six weeks to heal properly.

"Then physiotherapy is needed for about three weeks.

"After that, there can be gradual exercise, but to be fully ready will take at least six weeks more.

"In these circumstances, your body does not allow you to do more than you can, but if you try, then the leg could become swollen and the person could be in great pain.

"The great stress could also cause another serious injury elsewhere, to the knee or the ankle.

"In my opinion, it is not possible for Claudio to be ready in time for the World Cup.

"It would be more realistic to aim for the start of the domestic season, which begins in August."

With a world record 170 international caps and two World Cups behind him, Suarez has been a lynchpin in Mexico's team over recent years.

He has been included among coach Javier Aguirre's technical staff for the finals and, unless a medical miracle really does happen, he looks destined to sit this one out on the bench.

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