10 Worst Injuries in Football History and Their Aftermath

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 11.4.2024.

Reader’s beware - the stories, images, and videos you’ll see below are truly not for the faint of heart. These football players have paid the harshest prices for living the dreams of millions and getting paid millions. Although some have played in the second part of the 20th century when the financial return wasn’t that high. Certainly in the context of being on the receiving end of the 10 worst injuries in football history.

These worst injuries collected are bad either in how gruesome they looked in the moment, or how long the player had to deal with its repercussions. For many, it was past their retirement, hindering their everyday life too. However, the optical horrificness of the injury was not always directly proportionate to the time away from the pitch.

Firstly we will list the club or the country the player represented at the time of injury, followed by the date, and then the injury rehabilitation time.

Santi Cazorla (Arsenal vs Ludogorets, 2016) - 618 days injured

Santi Cazorla, who many of his compatriots and colleagues call the most skilful footballer they played with, had to undergo EIGHT surgeries on his ankle! Following a clash against Ludogorets in the Champions League, Santi had to call a stop on his entire career. The issue started in 2013 after Spain's friendly with Chile and a tough challenge suffered. Living with pain was the norm for Cazorla since. But in the said October 2016 match against Ludogorets, Cazorla had his leg further damaged and had to stop his career to solve this issue.

Skipping the rest of that season, and the entirety of the 2016/2017 season, Cazorla had gone onto the surgeon's workstation 11 times. Bacterias developed in his calf that ate eight centimetres of his Achilles tendon. In order to sanate his foot, doctors had to use skin from his forearm and his thigh. Making his body a little jigsaw, Santi calls it.

He returned to action on August 18th 2018, once again representing Villarreal. Since the injury, Santi has gone on to play in 208 matches, and is still active in the Spanish second division, at the age of 39.

Alan Smith (Manchester United v Liverpool, 2006) - 207 days

A two-for-one injury, all while playing in the nest of your most bitter rivals, in front of tens of thousands of them. While Alan Smith doesn't even have the consolation of saying an opponent's tough challenge caused it. It was blocking John Arne Riise’s shot that initiated the conundrum, resulting in Alan suffering a leg break and an ankle dislocation!

Smith was - at the time - a big hope for England and United, yet following the return from injury, the former Leeds man only played 18 games for the Red Devils. Before switching to Newcastle. After 94 games in the north of England, and 32 in the Championship, Smith dropped down to a League 1 level, just five seasons after the injury. Later he even played in League Two of the English football pyramid.

Christian Eriksen (Denmark vs Finland, 2021) - 232 days

A moment in football that transcended the sport as the viewership held its breath together when Christian Eriksen collapsed on the grass at the Euros 2020. The Dane suffered cardiac arrest at the tournament which actually happened in June of 2021. Simon Kjaer set the standards in how a captain should act and turned Eriksen on his side, set a wall with his players to give the doctors the cover to do their jobs, and not to allow the cameras to film the horror close-up.

While it was believed that it would be impossible for Eriksen to continue his career, with a cardioverter-defibrillator implanted in him, the midfielder returned to action rather quickly. Less than a year after he was back representing Denmark, scoring in both of the first two games following the hiatus. Arguably improving his career since, going to Manchester United and playing 19 more games for the national team.

Ewald Lienen (Arminia Bielefeld v Werder Bremen, 1981) - 28 days

Truly one of the most horrendous injuries that ever happened, not just in football, or sports in general. What Ewald Lienen suffered is closer to a war injury than a sporting one. With a villain behind it, according to him. On the second matchday of the 1981/1982 Bundesliga, Werder Bremen's Norbert Siegmann harshly tackled Arminia Bielefeld's midfielder Ewald Lienen and caused a 25 cms long gash on the side of Ewald’s thigh! Exposing his muscles and even his femur bone!

Screaming Lienen stood up a couple of times in shock, and then went on to rush towards the sideline to duel with the person he believes ordered his execution - Bremen's manager Otto Rehhagel. With the wound still open and onlookers in shock. Lienen claimed that Rehhagel clearly instructed his player to go for more aggressive tackles. The issue even went to the legal battlegrounds, but Lienen didn't get the win in this matter. However, in the most astonishing aspect of the story, the tough Lienen was back on the pitch just four weeks later.

Petr Cech (Chelsea v Reading, 2006) - 91 days

An injury that had the clearest reminder of them all - Peter Cech spent the rest of his career with his trademark safety cap on. The year of 2006 was clearly a bad one for Premier League players as that is when Cech went through his ordeal. The tall goalie collided with Reading midfielder Stephen Hunt inside Chelsea's penalty area within the first minute of a PL match. He was battered by Hunt's right knee, immediately gripping his head. His substitute in that match Carlo Cudicini got knocked out in the same match, forcing Chelsea to utilize John Terry in goal.

Cech went into surgery for a depressed skull fracture, but at first, the doctors didn't feel the injury was that dangerous. Which could've cost him his life. Losing all the memory of the incident, Cech returned to training two weeks later, yet the medical staff made him wait out three months before returning to the competitive matches. Cech still managed to get three of his total four Premier League Golden Glove awards after the gruesome injury. All with that signature hat.

Eduardo da Silva (Arsenal v Birmingham City, 2008) - 296 days

One of the worst injuries in football history and certainly one of the moments that many fans point to when asked about a moment which derailed someone's career. As well as Arsenal's title aspirations that 2007/2008 season. Eduardo was a big signing for the Gunners and started returning immediately, scoring 12 goals and making nine assists in his first 31 games for the club.

The dream debut season was put to a stop by Martin Taylor's truly abysmal challenge that broke Eduardo's leg and caused a dislocation of his left ankle. At the time of the injury, Arsene Wenger called for Taylor to be banned from football, although he later retracted the statement. Eduardo returned in the same year but played only four games in that following season. Even when he returned, the naturalized Brazilian who represented Croatia wasn't as convincing.

Djibrill Cisse (Liverpool v Blackburn, 2004) - 161 days

One of the 10 worst injuries in football that will question your understanding of physics and biomechanics. Djibril Cisse entered a duel with Blackburn's defender Jay McEveley trying to enter the box and at near-full speed, his leg broke - from the contact to the back of it! Cisse was diagnosed with a broken tibia and fibula. It was expected that he will pause for at least nine to 12 months. With the worst prediction that of an 18-month layout.

Yet, after the October injury, Cisse waited only until April of the same season to get back on the pitch! Playing in the last six games of the campaign.

David Busst (Coventry City v Manchester United, 1996) - retirement

What many are still to this day calling the worst football injury of all time. And they might be right. Not only did Coventry City's David Busst had to retire following his injury, but he to this day has nearly 30% of his calf missing as a result of that leg break in 1996. He suffered compound fractures to both tibia and fibula of his right leg after charging for the ball in the Manchester United box. It was minute two of the match.

As soon it was clear as to what happened, United's goalie Peter Schmeichel threw the ball out of bounds and then covered his face in disbelief. Busst required 26 operations following the challenge which left other players traumatized as well.

"I could see from the reaction of people around me. I'll never forget Dion Dublin, he was just bent down with his hand on his head, the look of horror in his eyes. They would have seen my right shin coming up at an 'L' shape when it should have been straight down. I didn't look down, you go into shock mode. The pain is excruciating. You freeze. You think any movement will make it worse," explained the experience Busst.

Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht vs Standard Liege) - 244 days

It's absolutely amazing that Marcin Wasilewski managed to be a part of Leicester City's magical title run, or that he was a professional player at all, considering the injury he sustained in 2009. In the Belgian derby, the more well-known culprit was Axel Witsel who tackled Wasilewski truly recklessly and unforgivingly. Shattering the Pole's leg and making it seemingly liquid underneath the socks. As a result, Witsel was suspended for eight games and Wasilewski underwent surgery for open fractures to both the tibia and fibula.

The centre-back did manage to have quite the career afterwards, playing nearly 100 games more for Anderlecht upon return. But also making 77 appearances for LCFC, 36 for Wisla Krakow, and 21 for Poland.

Luc Nilis (Aston Villa v Ipswich Town, 2000) - retirement

Certainly, the worst looking of the injuries as the leg break moment was caught perfectly harrowing by the photographer. Right in the moment when it bent around the leg of the goalkeeper Richard Wright, looking like the letter "C" reversed.

For those unaware with Nilis, it best to be described by his former teammate Ronaldo Nazario. "I’ve played with big players like Figo, Romario, Zidane, Rivaldo, Djorkaeff and Raul, but it clicked best with Nilis, with whom I played at PSV," said R9.

Nilis scored 311 club goals in 541 games, playing mostly for Anderlecht and PSV, but his career was cut short for at least two years with that injury according to his own estimate. Nilis also believes that the aftermath of it ruined his marriage as the two-footed maestro fell into a dark place due to not being able to walk for a while, let alone play.

Petr Cech has no memory of the actual injury and believes that has helped him not linger on it and have in-match fears as a cause. So best forget these 10 worst injuries in football history too, and just remember whenever someone calls these players soft.


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