‘Would’ve been pro if it wasn’t for that knee injury’ is the excuse your Sunday league striker uses for his hangover. And while they’re reaching a touch, injuries have long plagued professionals at the top of their game.
The sport is extremely taxing on the body, and for some, that tax weighs heavier on them than others, hampering and ruining careers. And as the game becomes more competitive and requires more athletic excellence in an increasingly demanding calendar, avoiding injury is a skill in itself.
90min recalls 30 of the greatest examples of injuries derailing careers significantly. Probably best to read this one sat down, you know, superstition and what not.
It’s frightening to look at just how incredible Ronaldo was, and how much he achieved in his career, knowing he was significantly bogged down.
R9 lost the best part of two years of his professional career to a recurring knee injury. Having spent five months out with a ruptured tendon, it snapped again in his first game back for Inter in 2000. Terrifying to think how good he could’ve been without the issues.
Another strange pick, it feels a little cheap putting two Ballon d’Or winners in the list. But that’s just testament to how good they were at their best.
Owen was no exception. Having broken through with Liverpool, he was football’s next star and his 2001 Ballon d’Or signalled that. Muscle and joint injuries ravaged Owen, who became petrified of ripping up his joints, forcing him into a more conservative style of play that ruined the second half of his career.
The most unfortunate thing about Souare’s injury is that it came away from the pitch.
Having rose to prominence with Crystal Palace following his 2015 arrival, the left back was airlifted to hospital with jaw and thigh injuries following a 2016 car crash. He made his return in September 2017, but never found the same levels.
Remembered best for his infamous Real Madrid debut which saw him bag an own goal and a red card, Woodgate’s career was more than just comedy.
The Englishman had to wait 17 months to make that debut for Los Blancos in 2005, signing in August 2004 despite being injured at the time and constantly battling for fitness. The truth is that recurring fitness issues – and lack of discipline – completely derailed what could’ve been a fine career.
The Eric Bailly paradox at Manchester United is so tiresome.
Gets fit, finds a run of form, gets injured for an extended period and the cycle repeats. Many assume that bad luck is the sole cause and, while it has played a part, the Ivorian defender’s rash style of play certainly hasn’t helped him stay out of the treatment room.
Busst unfortunately became famous for being known as the man to have suffered the worst injury in Premier League football.
Challenging in the air for a ball with Dennis Irwin in 1996, the Coventry defender’s leg got snapped into bits on the way down and required over 20 surgeries to repair, ending his career.
Liverpool had no luck with their young striker prodigies and injuries in the 90s and 2000s.
Again, Fowler’s career was by no means a dud because of injury, but persistent fitness issues always stopped him from kicking on into another gear, particularly after he left Liverpool for the first time in 2001.
People are quick to forget that early 2010s Sturridge alongside Luis Suarez was a seriously talented striker for Liverpool.
He bagged 25 goals and nine assists from 33 games in 2013/14, but was regularly hit with thigh, hip and calf problems that kept him out one after the other. Before you know it, you’re in Turkey strutting your stuff in front of a Trabzonspor crowd. Life is wild.
Crystal Palace’s coup of Sakho from Liverpool in January 2017 looked good business and was proving good business; genuine quality had shored them up massively.
Things went sour following a permanent deal, however, with injuries in 2018 and 2019 bogging him down significantly. Injuries affected confidence, and once that was gone, Sakho was done in the Premier League.
Ah, Dat Guy Welbz.
Once considered Manchester United‘s next big homegrown striker, inconsistencies on the field turned into a torrid cycle of muscle injuries for the Englishman. He’s still managed to carve out a Premier League career, but injuries have robbed him from knocking around with the top sides.
Looking back, a career of injury issues was inevitable for Walcott considering how frequently he played from so young, and how explosive his game was.
For years, Arsenal relied on a youthful Walcott to rip apart defences by putting on the afterburners and it worked. Until about 25, when he lost his legs and pace, and everything caught up to him. Shame.
Having balled out in purple for Fiorentina in Serie A, Jovetic earned his shot in English football with Manchester City ahead of the 2013/14 season.
And while fans loved him, the Montenegro striker never caught a break from the recurring injury niggles. So much so that in his final season, he was dropped from their Champions League squad in favour of Wilfried Bony. Supremely talented, but never reliable.
A fully fit Louis Saha could’ve been an absolute menace at Manchester United.
The Frenchman headed to Old Trafford from Fulham in 2004 and scored seven goals from his first ten games. But the next season spelled disaster as he only started 11 times and the curse had set in. Saha just never got going, despite looking so promising whenever he did.
Barcelona were destined to come calling for Coutinho following his dazzling displays, ripping up the Premier League every single week.
But once he completed that transfer in January 2018, luck ran out. Since moving to La Blaugrana, the Brazilian has had a torrid time with injuries, in turn affecting his performance levels. He now looks a shadow of the £105m player they signed from Liverpool.
Having won the Premier League in his younger years with City, Richards looked on course for a career as a reliable English full back.
Moving to Aston Villa in 2015 looked like a real coup as Richards looked sharp and he impressed despite 2015/16 Premier League relegation. The next three years saw a knee injury completely halt his career, though, and he retired aged 31 in 2019 having barely featured during the final two years of his contract.
While Richards came through at City, Rodwell was purchased by the club in 2012 for an initial £12m fee, having broke through at Everton.
A technical midfielder, Rodwell looked bright, but never curbed injury issues. Recurring muscle problems continued at Sunderland, who couldn’t shift their endlessly unavailable asset from a big contract as they dropped down the divisions.
Thankfully, the Premier League got to witness Cazorla’s magic from attacking midfield for years before the injuries began to take over.
Towards the end of his time at Arsenal, the Spaniard was bogged down with injuries. A knee issue turned into ankle and Achilles problems in 2016, and Cazorla underwent surgeries and a skin graft to ultimately save his leg from amputation and revive his career. A hellish time, it’s a miracle he returned to football in 2018.
A young French midfielder with the ability to play box to box and slip past opponents with ease, Arsenal had every right to be ecstatic about Diaby.
£2m looked a bargain at first, with Diaby able to pass, move and score worldies at any pace. Another stroke of Wenger brilliance. But of course injuries had to interrupt, ravaging his career at the top level and ultimately seeing him retire aged 32.
Another stroke of bad fortune on Barcelona accounts, La Blaugrana thought they were buying one of Europe’s brightest defenders in 2014.
Injuries followed him to the Catalan club, and Vermaelen didn’t make his debut until May 2015. A loan to Roma resulted in just 607 minutes of football, summing up a torrid four years that destroyed the peak of his career.
When West Ham poached the English striker in 2006, it looked like a serious coup.
Ashton’s goals were key to the Hammers retaining Premier League status, and earned him an England call up in August 2006. That call up saw his ankle broken in training, which put him out for the entire 2006/07 campaign and ultimately forced him into retirement at just 26 in 2009.
Another one where it feels somewhat strange to include considering his legacy on the game, it’s again frightening to think what an injury free Van Basten would’ve looked like. He was retired by 28 with three Ballon d’Ors.
The Dutchman had it all from elite control, awareness and the ability to score a goal from literally anywhere. An ankle injury bogged him down everywhere, but the final nail came in Milan’s 1993 Champions League final defeat, where it was injured again, this time for good.
He’s become a meme over the years for his regression since that Sir Alex Ferguson quote involving himself and Duncan Edwards, but Jones was actually once a decent prospect.
When fit and playing regularly, Jones was more than capable in his earlier years for United. Constant injuries have given him no time to build consistency and confidence, which has led to his downfall. A shame, really. There was a player in there, contrary to online reaction.
Thoughts go out to King. The defender played for Spurs from 1999 to his 2012 retirement and always looked strong, intelligent and reliable.
Constant knee injuries and issues bogged him down, though, particularly in the crucial years of his career. And where defenders age like fine wine, King was forced to retire.
When you score the winning goal in a World Cup final, it’s always going to be difficult to meet the levels of expectation that follow.
Mario Gotze’s exploits for Dortmund and then Germany catapulted him into the inevitable move to Bayern Munich, but persistent fitness problems completely wrecked his hype. He returned to Dortmund and was diagnosed with myopathy in 2017; a metabolism disorder that had been the cause of his fitness issues.
Early-to-mid 2010s Marco Reus isn’t talked about enough. The glue that held a ridiculously talented Dortmund side together.
Injuries have continually plagued Reus at all the wrong times. Linked with a big move, tipped for a big season or ready to head to shine at an international tournament, the German has been struck down every time. He could’ve been football’s biggest star by now.
Up there with some of football’s most gruesome breaks, Arsenal lost electric young striker Eduardo in 2008 to a broken left fibula and open ankle dislocation.
His leg was snapped in a game against Birmingham in the 2007/08 campaign, derailing Arsenal’s title charge, resulting in calls for the tackler Martin Taylor to be banned indefinitely, but most importantly ending Eduardo’s one big chance at football’s elite level. He left for free in 2010.
The streets can never forget this man at Milan.
Bursting onto the scene at Milan with nine goals from his first 18 appearances, the Brazilian wonderkid was fearless in front of goal, famously ripping apart Barcelona in the Champions League. But then the injuries kicked in, fearlessness faded into fearfulness and hesitancy as he stalled, and the magic found in his youth was gone.
The Emperor. The heir to the throne that Ronaldo was leaving behind. Monumental boots to fill, but Adriano was more than capable.
A shot that could send people to space, unrelenting pace and power and the beating of any defender. All that promise came crashing down with injuries and the death of his father. Adriano never recovered from that loss, and suffered with illness, fitness and commitment issues for the rest of his career. Football’s greatest ‘what if’.
Owen Hargreaves is one mystery of a man. A Canadian-born Englishman who started his football career in Germany. Oh, and he used YouTube as his route to a Manchester City contract that one time.
Hargreaves was everything you wanted in a defensive midfielder; fit, fast and a genius on the ball. Ferguson poached him for United, and while he played 120 minutes as they won the 2008 Champions League final, knee injuries limited him to just nine more senior appearances before retiring in 2012.
The man that shocked Camp Nou with a spellbinding midfield performance in 2011, dragging Barcelona’s greatest side to every angle of the pitch.
Arsenal had the blueprint in Wilshere. Injuries robbed them of watching him develop into a world class midfielder, in truth. The England international could never shake them, though, and missed too much football battling ankle issues. Absolutely gutting.