Suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury is not the death sentence for a player’s career that it once was.
Thanks to incredible advancement in both treatment and player fitness, recovery times are shrinking with each passing season. Saying that, not every player is so lucky and there remain cases of footballers being severely affected after rupturing their ACL.
What does all this mean for Virgil van Dijk, the latest high profile player to suffer the injury? We delved into the history books to see how 10 other big name players recovered after enduring similar setbacks.
Back in 1992 Alan Shearer was in his first season at Blackburn Rovers when disaster struck.
During a match against reigning champions Leeds United Shearer ruptured the ACL in his right knee, ruling him out for the rest of the campaign.
For many young players this would have a career altering setback. Not our Alan though. The following season he racked up an incredible 31 goals. One year later, he would lift the title with Rovers, eventually going on to net a record 260 Premier League goals before retiring in 2006.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic further cemented his reputation as a genetic freak back in 2017, recovering from a potentially career ending ACL injury in just seven months.
The Swede addressed his swift return to fitness in typically humble fashion.
“Lions don’t recover like humans,” he proclaimed (via Goal). “I train hard, sacrifice a lot. I play in my head, my knee just needs to follow.”
Are you taking notes Virgil?
With the whole world watching, Paul Gascoigne suffered a self-inflicted ACL rupture in the 1991 FA Cup final.
Gazza was visibly over-stimulated by the huge occasion and flew into a reckless tackle on Gary Charles in the opening exchanges, injuring himself in the process. Nottingham Forest then rubbed salt in his wounds with Stuart Pearce lashing home the resultant free kick.
Gascoigne spent the subsequent season in recovery, eventually sealing a much-publicised move to Lazio in the summer of 1992. A few iconic moments aside, he was never quite the same player again.
Partway through an intense battle between Manchester United and Leeds back in 1997, Roy Keane attempted to bring down sparring partner Alf-Inge Haaland, only for his studs to get caught in the turf.
Keane immediately went down in a heap, with Haaland – not knowing that Keane suffered an ACL injury – goading him for doing so.
Keane took pretty much a full season to recover. When he did return most agree he lost a bit of his trademark dynamism, but none of his competitive spirit, as Haaland discovered.
When the pair reacquainted themselves in the Manchester derby in 2001, Keane committed a disgusting – and premeditated – high tackle on the Norwegian.
Michael Owen collected injuries like a philatelist collects stamps.
The final straw that broke the camel’s back was the ACL rupture he suffered in a 2006 World Cup game against Sweden. With no other players around him, Owen attempted to pivot but instead collapsed on the ground in a heap.
When he eventually returned in 2007, he struggled, only managing one more double figure goal season before retiring in 2013.
“I remember waking up from the operation with a big gap in my leg. I did every ligament in my knee, and I can remember thinking I was finished,” Robbie Fowler told the Liverpool Echo.
The incident Fowler was referring to occurred in a Merseyside Derby back in in the 19971998 season. At the time, he was just 22 and already one of the Premier League’s most lethal finishers.
The injury changed him, tempering his explosiveness. After suffering the knock he never again managed to net over 14 Premier League goals in a single season.
Xavi’s recovery from an ACL tear he suffered back in 2006 was nothing short of incredible.
After missing a portion of the season, he returned in time for that summer’s World Cup and over the next decade he would firmly establish himself as one of the best midfielders of all time.
The injury clearly did not affect his fitness either with the Spaniard regularly making over 40 appearances a year throughout his career.
His most damaging knock came in the 2017 DfB-Pokal final against Eintracht Frankfurt. While his teammates celebrated victory, Reus was forced to accept another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
After over 250 days out with the problem, he made his Borussia Dortmund return and was even selected in Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad. In his first full season after recovery, Reus was mightily impressive, netting 17 times in the Bundesliga.
Few players have been as noticeably affected by an ACL injury then Alessandro Del Piero.
After recovering from the knock he suffered in 1998, the Italian lost his explosive pace and was forced to rethink his approach. Del Piero hit the gym and started operating in a deeper, more creative role, relying on his intelligence rather than his pace to pick apart defences.
This new approach brought him plenty of success and also helped him extend his career, with the forward eventually retiring at the ripe old age of 39.
Robert Pires was otherworldly good during the 2001/2002 season, leading the Premier League assist charts and also winning the FWA Player of the Year award.
He accomplished all this despite suffering a terrible ACL injury towards the end of the campaign, which ruled him out of the World Cup.
Following his recovery, Pires had no problem reaching the same incredible heights in subsequent seasons, helping the Gunners complete a full term unbeaten during the 2003/2004 season.