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
Dutch forward Marco van Basten is regarded as one of the finest players of his generation and among the best strikers to ever play the game.
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
Michael Owen had the world at his feet as a teenager. A star at the 1998 World Cup for England and a Ballon d’Or victor while playing for Liverpool in 2001, Owen had generational potential.
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
Manchester United’s Alan Smith broke his leg and dislocated his ankle after landing awkwardly while blocking a John Arne Riise free-kick. Smith’s shocking injury was described by manager Sir Alex Ferguson as one of the worst he’s seen.
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
Oh, what that baby-faced teenager could’ve become. The midfielder toyed with one of the greatest midfield trios ever assembled at the tender age of 19.
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.
- For more football statistics, make sure you check out our Football Stats Centre.
16. Alf Inge Haaland
You might have heard of this Erling Braut Haaland bloke who’s ripping it up for Borussia Dortmund at the moment. Well, his father, Alf Inge, also played a bit and while he didn’t boast anywhere near the talent of his freakish son, the Norwegian nonetheless enjoyed a fine career before it came to an abrupt halt in 2003.
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
Premier League champion with Leicester City Marcin Wasilewski is perhaps more commonly known for being on the receiving end of a horror tackle from then Belgian ‘Golden Boy’ Axel Witsel back in 2009.
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.
For all that “R9” Ronaldo achieved by the time he called it quits on a stellar career, there’s still a lingering feeling of “what could’ve been”. The magisterial Brazilian forward is remembered as one of the greats and arguably the most electrifying player ever in his prime, but he had the potential to be the greatest.
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
Tottenham defender Gary Mabbutt felt the full force of feared AFC Wimbledon forward John Fashanu in a Premier League match back in 1993.
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
This was the second of a pair of notorious Arsenal player leg breaks. In February 2010, Aaron Ramsey felt the full force of a Ryan Shawcross tackle that fractured the young Welshman’s right tibia and fibula.
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
Kieron Dyer endured a wretched injury record throughout his career which prevented the talented Englishman from ever fulfilling his potential.
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
A tackle from PSV Eindhoven’s Hector Moreno almost ended the career of Luke Shaw, the world’s most expensive teenager at the time after he joined Manchester United from Southampton.
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
Former France forward Djibril Cisse had the misfortune of breaking his leg twice. The first, which occurred while playing for Liverpool in 2004, left him within 30 minutes of having his foot amputated – he later revealed – after fracturing both his tibia and fibula.
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
Former Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann was made of steel.
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
This is an incident that only a few might be aware of, and it was horrifying.
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.
We all remember this, right? Mark Taylor’s horror challenge broke the tibia and fibula of Arsenal’s Brazilian forward Eduardo. The force of the impact also dislocated his ankle.
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
This is one of the most infamous incidents in Premier League history, and one that facilitated arguably the most distinct look in football.
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
On loan from Juventus, the sky seemed the limit for Federico Mattiello. However, his dreams of following in the footsteps of Claudio Marchisio in Turin were dashed at the tender age of 19.
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
Listed by Ronaldo as one of his favourite strike partners, Belgian striker Luc Nilis was set to star in the Premier League with Aston Villa after joining on a free transfer from PSV Eindhoven in 2000.
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
This was football at its very worst. Under the beaming lights of a World Cup semi-final, too, where France met West Germany in Seville.
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
The snapped leg of Coventry defender David Busst following a collision with Manchester United pair Dennis Irwin and Brian McClair left Peter Schmeichel vomiting and in need of counselling. The contest was delayed for 15 minutes after blood had to be removed from the pitch.
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.