It takes incredible resolve to come back from serious injury, but it takes even more to return stronger than before.
Petr Cech and Ronaldo are among those who have recovered from career threatening injuries and resumed playing at a world class level. Yet neither never quite managed to reach the same heights they had been at prior to getting injured.
These VII players not only managed to come back from serious injury, they were stronger…
Signed as a 17-year-old, Aaron Ramsey was just starting to establish himself at Arsenal when a tackle from Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross left him with a double break to his lower right leg.
Ramsey was loaned out to Nottingham Forest and boyhood club Cardiff to regain fitness after his recovery and it was more than a year before he started playing regularly for Arsenal again.
Yet, upon his return, the Welsh midfielder became a crucial player for the Gunners and was particularly influential in the 2014 FA Cup final when the club won its first trophy in nine years. After nearly 370 appearances, he commanded a move to Juventus in 2019.
Serious knee injuries can be enough to end a football career before it has begun and that was a risk that Roberto Baggio encountered as a teenager in Serie C in the 1980s. Fiorentina went ahead with an already proposed transfer but another injury resulted in his knee being rebuilt.
It was therefore remarkable that less than four years later, Baggio was moving to Juventus as the most expensive player in history. By 1993 he had won the Ballon d’Or and a year after that the Divine Ponytail’s goals guided Italy to the 1994 World Cup final.
Baggio also became the first Italian player to score at three different World Cup tournaments when he netted for the Azzurri in 1998, having also done so as a young player in 1990.
Having made an incredible start to his Celtic career by scoring 57 goals in his first two seasons and 12 more at the start of 1999/00, Henrik Larsson broke his leg in two places in October 1999 and only returned to action on the final day of the campaign.
His career had been in jeopardy as a result. But the Swede was more prolific than ever before the following season, scored 53 times in all competitions, including 35 in the Scottish Premier League to win the European Golden Shoe – despite Scotland being poorly weighted compared to other leagues.
Larsson remained prolific for Celtic, before going on to make a key impact at Barcelona, enjoying an Indian summer at Helsingborg and becoming a cult hero at Manchester United.
Two-time Women’s World Cup winner, Olympic gold medallist and 2019 Women’s Ballon d’Or recipient Megan Rapinoe has suffered three ACL injuries in her illustrious career, two of which came during crucial developmental years at collegiate level.
Rapinoe saw both her 2006 and 2007 NCAA seasons ended by separate ACL ruptures, yet returned each time to become one of the best female players in the world by the early 2010s.
The USWNT star won the World Cup in 2015, before her third ACL injury later that year. In the 2019, World Cup, she picked a second winner’s medal, as well as awards as the tournament’s top scorer and best player, having also emerged as global figurehead and ambassador.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
A day after a proposed £18.5m transfer to Manchester United was put on hold in 2000, Ruud van Nistelrooy suffered ACL damage in a PSV Eindhoven training session.
The Old Trafford club had enough faith in the Dutchman’s recovery to complete the deal a year later and he immediately hit the ground running, scoring 36 times in his debut season. That tally improved to 44 in 2002/03, while he also scooped a Premier League Golden Boot.
Van Nistelrooy scored 150 times in total for United in just five years with the club, while he later fired Real Madrid to back-to-back La Liga titles and won Spain’s Pichichi Trophy.
Alan Shearer scored 31 or more goals in three consecutive Premier League seasons for Blackburn Rovers in the mid-1990s, firing the Lancashire club to the title in 1994/95. Yet he had earlier missed half of his first year with the team because of a snapped ACL.
After a £15m world record transfer in 1996, Shearer went on to miss much of the 1997/98 and 2000/01 seasons with Newcastle, but both times returned to prolific goalscoring.
Shearer scored 409 career goals as it was, including a Premier League record 260 and a Newcastle club record 206. Had he not suffered three major injuries it could have been more.
Kaka was at risk of never walking again, let alone playing football, when he suffered a spinal fracture in a swimming pool accident when he was just 18 and about to graduate from Sao Paulo’s youth ranks. Fortunately, he recovered and made his senior debut a year later.
The Brazilian secured a move to AC Milan in 2003 and was the creative star of the side that reached the 2005 Champions League final. Two years later, Milan won by exacting revenge over Liverpool and Kaka was presented with the Ballon d’Or for his role in the triumph.
In 2009, Real Madrid then saw fit to make him the most expensive player in the world.
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