The Top 20 Worst Football Injuries – Gruesome & Career-Breaking
As unfortunate as they are, injuries are part and parcel of the sport we love. As history has proved, nobody’s safe from the Grim Reaper of the footballing world. We’ve seen players sustain some horrendous blows over the years, some even ending careers.
- Here’s a list of the top 20 worst football injuries we’ve seen, varying from some of the most gruesome to the most career damaging.
20. Marco van Basten
However, after winning all there is to win at a domestic level as well as Euro ’88 with the Netherlands, van Basten was forced to retire at the age of 28. His serious injury woes began in 1986 and perpetuated through 1995.
The Dutchman persistently played through pain, endured four ankle surgeries after tearing his ligaments on several occasions before he finally conceded the battle in August 1995, opting to retire following two years on the sidelines.
19. Michael Owen
However, aged just 19, Owen tore a hamstring that forced him to completely alter his game. The freakish speed that instilled fear in defenders dissipated once he returned, and Owen later revealed that he was “petrified” of running channels because of the fear of re-injury.
Owen would go on to have a stellar career, but he certainly didn’t live up to the superstar projection that he initially manifested. Later, his injury woes continued. The striker broke his metatarsal in 2005 before tearing his ACL a year later.
18. Alan Smith
The former Leeds man received a standing ovation from the Anfield crowd as he was stretchered off the field. Smith would be out of action for seven months and continue playing up until 2018. In 2020, Smith said he still feels the consequences of his injury and struggles to walk at times.
17. Jack Wilshere
However, Jack Wilshere would go on to boast one of the most wretched injury records in recent history, thus, preventing him from reaching seemingly inevitable superstardom.
Initial problems emerged in the 2011/12 campaign as he underwent ankle surgery before picking up a plethora of injury problems over the next few years. He broke his foot, underwent minor knee surgery, and broke his calf bone during his time at Arsenal, as he persistently teased resurgences.
Every time, however, he’d succumb to a fresh injury problem. Wilshere left north London permanently in 2018 for West Ham. His woes continued, though, and he now plays for AFC Bournemouth in the EFL Championship after joining as a free agent in the summer.
Throughout his career, Wilshere has spent a remarkable 1,300+ days out of action due to injuries.
16. Alf Inge Haaland
While Roy Keane’s vicious challenge on Haaland wasn’t the primary reason for his premature retirement, it certainly played a role.
It was a premeditated, deliberate assault by the vengeful Irishman, who sought to take out Haaland after the Manchester City player had berated an injured Keane on the field three-and-a-half years earlier. The tackle was horrendous, with Keane wrapping his right boot into Haaland's thigh.
15. Marcin Wasilewski
In a heated clash between Anderlecht and Standard Liege, Witsel charged into a tackle with Wasilewski, breaking the defender’s leg in two places. Witsel’s challenge earned widespread condemnation across Belgium, damaging his then glowing reputation.
Wasilewski later confirmed his intentions to sue the midfielder and he’d refuse to shake hands with the defendant when they’d meet later in their careers.
Unfortunately, injuries set ‘El Fenomeno’ back somewhat, with the most fateful incident occurring in April 2000.
Ronaldo had just returned from a lengthy spell out when he was utilised as a substitute by Marcello Lippi in Inter Milan’s Coppa Italia clash with Lazio. The striker attempted one of his trademark sequences of samba silk but instead fell to the turf in agony as his knee buckled.
He had previously ruptured a knee tendon, but this injury proved more serious. This time, his kneecap tendon was completely torn. Ronaldo left the field on a stretcher to the rapturous applause of the Stadio Olimpico crowd.
Ronaldo’s physio later described the injury as “the worst” he’s ever seen in football. Many regard the incident as one of the saddest in the sport’s history as the world was robbed of the Brazilian’s explosive genius.
13. Gary Mabbutt
During an aerial challenge between the pair, Fashanu’s elbow crashed into Mabbutt's face, leaving the Englishman with a fractured skull and cheekbone. Mabbutt almost lost his eye, too, and he endured a two-hour surgery to piece his eye socket back together. If that's not nasty, we don't know what is.
The tough defender was out for just a month, though, and he returned wearing a protective facemask. Becoming one of the first ever players to do so.
12. Aaron Ramsey
Ramsey would make a full recovery and eventually emerge as a protagonist for the Gunners before he departed for Italian giants Juventus on a free transfer in 2019. The Welshman’s revered in north London for his knack of scoring the most crucial of goals.
11. Kieron Dyer
The most serious of injuries he sustained came just days after signing for West Ham from Newcastle in 2007. During a League Cup match with Bristol Rovers, Dyer was stretchered off after suffering a double leg fracture following a challenge from Joe Jacobsen. He’d be out of action for 17 months, with many suggesting he should retire.
The injury did all but end his career despite playing sporadically for the next five years with several clubs.
10. Luke Shaw
Shaw suffered a double leg fracture, but doctors later discovered two blood clots on the limb which required an emergency operation. Had the decision been made for Shaw to return to Manchester to begin his rehabilitation, the full-back would’ve likely lost his leg.
9. Djibril Cisse
Cisse made a rapid recovery and returned later that season before he broke his other leg ahead of the 2006 World Cup. On this occasion, the Frenchman fractured his tibia after being knocked off balance by a Chinese defender as he chased a loose ball.
8. Bert Trautmann
During the 1956 FA Cup final between City and Birmingham City, the German Trautmann broke several vertebrae in his neck after colliding with Birmingham’s Paul Murphy. Murphy’s knee would knock the goalkeeper unconscious and surely out of the contest.
However, unbeknownst to the extent of his injury, Trautmann went on to finish the final between the sticks, as Man City won 3-1.
7. Juan Arango
In a 2005 La Liga clash between Mallorca and Sevilla, Mallorca playmaker Juan Arango brutally collided with Javi Navarro leaving him with a little more than the bloodied face captured by cameras.
Arango fell unconscious immediately, broke his cheekbone and swallowed his tongue thanks to Navarro’s challenge. The horrific facial injury thrust the Venezuelan into intensive care, although he would make a full and rather swift recovery.
Taylor’s challenge left Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger incensed, with Wenger’s fury only exacerbated by James McFadden’s late equaliser to rescue Birmingham City a point.
The incident derailed the Gunners’ Premier League title charge. Bacary Sagna later said an “insecurity” manifested in the Arsenal dressing room, and they’d eventually finish four points off champions Manchester United in third having led by five points before Eduardo’s injury in February 2008.
5. Petr Cech
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech rushed out of his goal during a clash with Reading in October 2006 where his head was met by the right knee of Stephen Hunt. He was forced off the field, although doctors were initially unaware of the seriousness of the injury. Cech, who later admitted that he has no recollection of the incident, eventually underwent surgery for a depressed skull fracture that almost cost his life.
He’d return to action in January 2007, donning the iconic head guard for the rest of his illustrious career.
4. Federico Mattiello
While playing for Chievo, Mattiello’s right leg succumbed to a horrific double break after a challenge from Roma star Radja Nainggolan. It was the most gruesome of breaks, but the young midfielder did make a full recovery, returning to action less than a year later. He’d soon move on from the bright lights of Juventus, playing for the likes of Bologna and Cagliari in Serie A before making the move to Spezia in 2020, where he still plays.
3. Luc Nilis
His career with Villa would last just three games, though, following a collision with Ipswich Town goalkeeper Richard Wright. Nilis sustained a double fracture of his right leg that’d force him to retire four months later.
Fortunately, speculation surrounding a possible infection and amputation turned out to be false.
2. Patrick Battiston
With the contest locked at one apiece just before the hour mark, French midfielder Patrick Battiston exploited a vacancy in the German backline and was spotted by the great Michel Platini. After the ball fell at Battiston’s feet, an outrushing Harald Schumacher was France’s only obstacle to taking a precious lead. However, an act of what was described as “brutal cynicism” abruptly halted Battiston’s charge to glory. The defender poked the ball beyond Schumacher before the German keeper crashed into the defenceless Frenchman with such sickening assurance.
His hip clattered into Battiston’s face, forcing him into a motionless state on the turf. Schumacher’s assault broke the Frenchman’s jaw, damaged his vertebrae, and displaced four of his teeth.
1. David Busst
It was a sickening sequence, and it was later revealed that the Englishman required 22 surgeries to repair his right leg after he broke his tibia and fibula before contracting MRSA in the injured tissue.
Busst would never play again after sustaining the worst football injury of all time.