Most footballers have to deal with an injury at some point in their career. The difference between them is the way they deal with those injuries. For some players, an injury can mean the end. For others, it can be an opportunity that can lead them to even more success.
The 10 players on this list all had to deal with very severe injuries or even life-threatening problems but they all weren’t defeated by them but instead, used them as catalysts for greater strength and success.
So if you’re injured or going through a tough time right now, we hope this article can give you some hope and motivation to keep fighting!
10) Aaron Ramsey
Severity: 7/10 (Double leg fracture)
Time Injured: 9-Months
In 2010, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey was seen as a rising star. Just 18-months earlier he secured a move to Arsenal and was starting to make his move from the bench into the first team as a 17-year old.
Then, on a cold rainy February night in Stoke, Ramsey plummeted to the floor with a Ryan Shawcross slide tackle which broke his right leg.
What followed were long, monotonous days of gym sessions. Ramsey remained motivated through the boring routine by constantly setting himself goals. “The first three months were the hardest, in that gym, doing little things, where you don’t think they are doing much to you. But you had to do them, and I think they have paid off eventually. I just took it day by day at the time and set myself a target for the end of each week. Every day, I saw improvements. Overall, the rehabilitation period went pretty well.”
If there is anything he learnt during his absence, it is how gifted he is, and how fortunate to do what he likes most. “I realised how much football actually means to me. When you are watching all the games, while sitting on your settee, you think: ‘I should be there’. That’s one of the most difficult parts of it.”
Life After Injury
Aaron Ramsey in 2018 is one of Arsenal’s key players. A 3x FA Cup, 200+ appearances in an Arsenal shirt, Champions league, Euro cups, he’s one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe.
The takeaway from Aaron’s story is to just “get on with it.” – No one likes injury but Aaron ground it out, pushed through and after, he got an appreciation for football he didn’t have before. Even though he missed out on over 9-months of no game time in a prime period of his teenage years, he still turned out to be one of the stable players in the English Premier League.
9) Jack Wilshere
Severity: 7/10 (Hairline crack in calfbone)
Time Injured: 8 months
Jack Wilshere was once, one of the most promising English footballers. At age 17, he emerged quite spectacularly and has since then been a big hope for Arsenal.
But due to his frequent injuries, he was never quite able to live up to the expectations. After being lent out to Bournemouth in 2016, he returned, yet again, with a broken leg and it seemed very unlikely that he would ever play an important part again for Arsenal.
But fortunately, he had a big supporter in Arsene Wenger, who, during Wilshere’s recovery, told reporters, “Give him credit for what he has gone through – it demands some character. I have a big respect for that because it is all nicey-nicey when you are super talented and everybody says you are the greatest player at 17. To come back to that level when you have gone through what he has gone through shows a special character.”
He also stressed just how much he believed in him “What is a very important quality is always to continue to believe in human beings – I believe everybody is alive to fight, so I never gave up on him”.
Life After Injury
After eight, rough months, Wilshere as back on the pitch and he did everything possible to repay Wenger’s trust, taking responsibility on the pitch and showing his impressive qualities.
It is no surprise that after Wenger’s retirement this summer, Wilshere decided that he should try his luck at another club in London, West Ham United. We all hope that he can stay injury-free and can continue showing his talent, coupled with his determination and work ethic that have gotten him where he is now.
Wilshere is a good example of just how difficult it is to live up to the massive expectations that are put on talented, young players. It is certainly possible that that pressure played a part in his frequent injuries. Nevertheless, he continues to show incredible character and keeps fighting, no matter what.
Suffering from injury and want to come back as a BETTER player? We’ve written a free 10-page guide with 5 easy to follow steps!
8) Francesco Totti
Severity: 7/10 (Broken Leg + Torn Ligaments)
Time Injured: 4 months
The picture above speaks for itself and you get a feeling pretty quickly of how nasty Francesco Totti’s injury was. But what was even worse for him, was the timing of the injury.
In February 2006, Totti was highly anticipating the World Cup in Germany, which would be his last international tournament. So when he broke his leg and tore multiple ligaments in a Serie A match in February, he was obviously extremely disappointed. An injury of that calibre usually takes six to nine months to heal, so the Italians were certain that they would have to play without one of their key players in the summer.
Francesco Totti is known for his ambition and competitiveness (not always in a good way), but the fact that he was back on the pitch after only four months was crazy, even for his standards.
Life After Injury
He went on to play all seven World Cup matches including the final against France which won them the World Cup. Totti played all of those games with metal plates and screws in his ankle.
He retired from football in 2017 and will be remembered as one of the greatest footballers of all time.
We’ve talked about this a bit earlier already, but Totti’s story shows again how important goals are.
He wanted to make it to the World Cup so badly, that he was able to defy all odds and complete his recovery in record time. So, what are you working towards?
7) Vincent Kompany
Severity: 8/10 (Multiple Injuries )
Time Injured: Missed 130 Games due to Injury
Vincent Kompany’s case is a bit different than the ones of the other players on this list. While the others dealt with very severe injuries/health problems, Kompany has had it relatively easy. But the frequency of injuries that Kompany has had to go through is what puts him on the list.
Since his debut for Manchester City in 2008, he missed 130 games due to physical issues, mostly calf injuries. Put together that’s more than three Premier League seasons!
The question is just how he keeps up his spirit to keep coming back after yet another injury blow, “I have to stay the opposite of lucid, that is to say, that I have to believe it, sometimes lie to myself, sometimes be much more positive than all the people around me.”
He also said that he’s learned to welcome the struggles as learning opportunities that make him stronger.
Life After Injury
Last season’s win in the Carabao Cup final against Arsenal, when Kompany came back after another calf injury, proved to him that the fight is worth it. After scoring and winning the man of the match honours, Kompany said a few days later, “When it all comes together like that, you want to tell young players to just hang in there because every minute of hard work is worth it when you are able to have what we had on Sunday.”
It is no coincidence that Kompany is both Manchester City’s and Belgium’s captain. If someone is able to deal with so much adversity, you know that he has the strength and experience to lead a team.
6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Severity: 8/10 (Torn ACL)
Time Injured: 7 months
It is surprising that the next player on our list even had to deal with a difficult injury. As a self (and from football fans around the world) -proclaimed god, you would think that Zlatan Ibrahimovic would not be faced with the same problems that mere mortal players have to go through…
But during the 2016/2017, Europa League campaign he suffered meniscus and cruciate ligament damage and a break of nine to 12 months were at the very least anticipated. It was also quite possible that due to his (for football standards) old age, he would never return to the football stage again.
But here the 36-year old Swede, proved just how special he is, making his comeback only six and a half months after his injury!
“In my recovery, I have not rushed anything. People may believe that because I have been out for six and a half months but I have been following protocol and my schedule day by day,” he said. “The only secret has been working hard. Those close to me know what I have been doing – I was working five, six hours a day. When it happened I said to everybody giving up was not an option. My only focus was on coming back and coming back better. For that, you need to work hard. I know when I’m back it’s my head playing, not my knee. My knee has to follow.”
Life After Injury
Ibrahimovic will turn 37 in a couple of months and is still going strong in the MLS for LA Galaxy. Having scored 15 goals in only 19 games, he is even linked to a move back to Old Trafford in January!
While it is rather unlikely that he is really a god, you can not deny just how strong the power of self-belief is. And that it can even turn career-ending injuries into possibilities for growth and improvement.
5) Santi Cazorla
Severity: 9/10 (Ankle Injury)
Time Injured: 21 months
If you ask Santi Cazorla’s past and present teammates, most of them will tell you that he’s the best player they’ve ever played with. His technique is outstanding, his vision is superb and his “weak” left foot is so good, that he takes his corners with it! It would be no surprise if he would be among the five best players in the world…weren’t it for his incredible injury record.
Between October 20th, 2016(!) and July 17th, 2018, Cazorla did not play a single match due to an ankle injury. That’s 636 days! He underwent 9 surgeries during this time and was even close to having to get his foot amputated due to infections in his ankle!
“Everything that I have gone through has not been as simple an injury as people have believed. Nobody trusted me but I do, I still do, although the pain keeps me cautious,” said Cazorla during his time of recovery. And Arsene Wenger added, “…it has been extremely tough and testing for him. If there is one guy who loves football passionately, loves to be on the pitch and comes in with a smile every day when he is fit, it’s Santi Cazorla, so you know he suffers a lot not to be out there with the ball at his feet. He is extremely strong and brave, and behind his smile is a strength you would not guess. He is a very strong character, and everyone at Arsenal wishes him well and we hope to have him back soon.”
Life After Injury
This summer Cazorla went back to his old club, Villareal FC, and finally made his comeback (after 636 days) on July 17th. Hopefully, he will stay healthy and can get back to world-class form.
Santi Cazorla is a tragic example of injuries interfering with the success a player could have had. But regardless of the frustration that he must undoubtedly feel, he keeps smiling, works hard and doesn’t let anything take his joy of playing!
4) Luke Shaw
Severity: 9/10 (double leg fracture)
Time Injured: 10 months
If you type in “10 most horrific football injuries ever” into Google the tackle on Luke Shaw in September 2015, is one of the first videos that will pop up. It comes with an advisory that you should be 18 and above to watch it.
Manchester United was playing PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League group stages, when Hector Moreno slide-tackled Shaw, leaving him with a double leg fracture. “I was holding on to my thigh and looking down on the rest of my leg, and it was just kind of hanging there.”
In the first few weeks, he received massive amounts of support from fans, players and ex-players from all around the world. But he remembers someone telling him “As long as you know that (the support) is going to die down in a few weeks and, after that, it’s just going to be you, focusing on getting back.” And that’s exactly what happened. Shaw wasn’t able to walk properly for 6 months and he says that there were times when he was thinking “I don’t want to be here (alive) anymore”.
Life After Injury
But in July 2016, after 10 months of rehabilitation, he finally made his comeback for Manchester United.
Today, Shaw plays an important part in Jose Mourinho’s line-up and just scored his first professional goal!
It can be very lonely if you’re going through rehab by yourself and it is easy to lose hope. Shaw was able to push through that with the help of his family and even working with a psychiatrist. Don’t underestimate the mental challenge of dealing with a bad injury and don’t be afraid to get help.
3) Petr Cech
Severity: 9/10 (Skull Fracture)
Time Injured: 4 months
In October 2006, the current Premier League champion, Chelsea, was playing against Reading, when after only 15 seconds, Reading’s midfielder, Stephen Hunt, collided with Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper. It looked like a normal challenge that wouldn’t cause much drama. But in reality, death was very close this afternoon for Petr Cech. And it got closer and closer with every second until a surgeon inserted metal plates in Cech’s head. Petr Cech suffered a skull fracture and was only saved through an emergency surgery.
Cech recovered fairly quickly and was only out for four months, but his career would never be the same.
Life After Injury
From now on he would always wear the protective headgear on the pitch that would become his trademark. The fear that something likes this could happen again probably never left him. And why should it? He was seconds away from dying on that October day in 2006.
But despite this fear, he would go on to become one of the best goalkeepers of all time, winning multiple titles both individually and collectively, most prominently the Champions League in 2012.
The mental challenge after an injury can quite often be the most difficult part of the injury. You’re afraid that something could happen again and you don’t go 100% into every challenge. Lots of players (see Luke Shaw) use sports psychologists to get over this fear. But in the end, it takes a lot of courage to get out on the pitch again and players like Cech can be great role-models that teach you that it can be done.
2) Ivan Klasnic
Severity: 10/10 (Kidney Failure)
Time Injured: 6 months
Ivan Klasnic is most likely the least prominent player on the list but the ex-Bolton Wanderers and Werder Bremen player has had to deal with one of the most difficult health problems that you can go through.
Starting to feel pain in 2005, he was diagnosed with kidney problems but continued playing while in treatment. But by January 2007, things had worsened so dramatically that not just his career, but his life was in danger.
Following a failure of both of his kidneys, he had to undergo two kidney transplants, which fortunately worked out well and he was able to escape death. But Klasnic was not content with just surviving. He wanted to get back on the pitch as soon as possible.
Life After Kidney Failure
After completing his rehabilitation he went right back to action for Werder Bremen before moving to FC Nantes, Bolton Wanderers and finally ending his career in Germany with FSV Mainz 05. Believing that his health issues were over, it came as a surprise that in September 2016, Klasnić’s transplanted kidney failed and he was deemed critically ill again. He received a third transplant in October 2017.
Similar to Eric Abidal’s story, what Klasnic went through can help put things into perspective. You might be dealing with an injury that keeps from playing for a few months, but it could always be worse. And even then, you should not give up and do everything in your power to win this battle against adversity, because it can be won!
1) Eric Abidal
Severity: 10/10 (Cancer)
Time Injured: 11 months
In 2009, Eric Abidal was playing a key part in what was arguably the best team in football history. Winning the treble (Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey) with FC Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, Abidal was enjoying the perfect career. Starting out in France’s third division, he quickly moved up, playing first for AS Monaco, then Lille and Olympique Lyon before ending up in Barcelona in 2007. And after winning every possible trophy between 2007 and 2011 there seemed to be nothing that could stop Abidal. But then on March 11th, 2011, a tumour was found in his liver and he had to undergo surgery two days later.
The surgery went well and to everyone’s surprise, he was back on the pitch two months later to win the Champions League final against Manchester United.
But in March 2012, his health worsened again, forcing him to undergo a liver transplant. During that time, Abidal was going through “…. a pain I will remember for life. It was unbearable, like an open knife.” He lost a lot of weight and was unable to move his body most of the time.
Life After Cancer
After 7 months of painful fighting to play football again, he returned to training in December 2012 and made his comeback in April 2013.
There are few things, that are worse than being diagnosed with cancer. Abidal was most likely more afraid of losing his life than not playing football again. But he managed to do both, live and continue his career. If you’re currently injured, Abidal’s story can really put things in perspective and it should give you courage that even someone who had cancer twice, was able to come back strong, even winning the Champions League four months after his first cancer diagnosis.
So if you’re injured right now, don’t just sit around and feel pity for yourself all day. Take on the challenge, do whatever you can to get recover as quickly as possible and remember that pressure makes diamonds!
Suffering from injury and want to come back as a BETTER player?
We’ve written a free 10-page guide with 5 easy to follow steps!
Free Download it as a PDF here!
Corbi Stimmer, 20, is a footballer who used to play at the highest levels both in Germany and the United States. After playing for the Elite school of Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich, as well as the DeAnza Force Academy (#1 team in the US at the time), he’s now part of the Train Effective Team and tries to share his experience of what it takes to get to the highest level as a youth player.
For questions, message him on Instagram: @cstimmer