When youngsters strive to be a professional footballer, the thought of their career being troubled by injuries or called to a halt early is their worst nightmare. Many players have unfortunately faced this, which has stopped them reaching their full potential. In this article, we outline 5 players that we believe would have had a greater impact on the beautiful game if they did not have a career plagued by injuries.
Owen Hargreaves had a unique career path, being born in Canada and then coming through the youth set-up at German giants Bayern Munich, but choosing to represent England’s national team after playing 3 games for the Wales U19’s team. He also did not start properly playing football until the age of 15, an age unheard of when speaking about those playing at the highest level. Owen Hargreaves was a work horse in holding midfield, and even recently said on BT Sports that his role in most big games was to completely nullify the threat of a key player on the opposing team rather than make large contributions on the ball. Hargreaves did just that in many games, and played a key role when he was fit to play, including a 2001 Champions League Final win with Bayern Munich. He also won four league titles with Bayern Munich.
Hargreaves’s injury problems started in the 2002-03 season with Bayern Munich, in which he was injured 3 times. Hargreaves then went relatively injury free by his standards until the 2006-07 season, in which he broke his leg and this saw him miss most of the season. This would be his last season at Bayern Munich, with Manchester United splashing out £17m on the midfielder in a deal that took over a year to negotiate. Hargreaves was an exciting acquisition for United, but his spell at the Red Devils was plagued by injury, with him only making 27 appearances over a 4-year period and 23 of these came in his first season. Hargreaves’s injury record was so poor that he even made YouTube videos trying to convince potential suitors that he was in a good condition to play after he was released by Manchester United. Hargreaves has blamed the injections given to him by Manchester United for his poor injury record, a claim that was dismissed by former boss Sir Alex Ferguson. He would go on to sign for arch rivals Manchester City on a 1-year deal, but his injury problems continued and the midfielder only made 1 appearance for the club. He was subsequently released at the end of his contract and this game for Man City would turn out to be his last, aged 32. He only played 5 games after the age of 27, which one would deem to be the peak years of his career.
He also rarely played for the England national team after making the move to Manchester due to injuries, making his last appearance for England 1 year into his 4-year spell at United. Hargreaves made 39 appearances for England whilst at Bayern Munich, but only 3 when at Manchester United, with these coming in an era where English players outside the Premier League rarely played for England due to a lack of exposure. He won England’s Player of the Year in both 2006 and 2007 in a team dubbed the ‘Golden Era’, being blessed with great players such as Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney. Hargreaves therefore undoubtedly had the potential to be a great for both England and Manchester United if it wasn’t for injuries.
Although Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato has not retired from the game and is currently a free agent looking for a new club, his career hasn’t quite panned out as expected. Pato burst onto the scene with his blistering pace, combined with his technical ability and eye for goal. Pato broke the long-standing record set by Pele by becoming the youngest scorer at the FIFA Club World Cup, scoring for Internacional aged 17 years and 102 days. Internacional would go on to win this tournament, with Pato playing a key role in their success despite his young age. He then earned a move to Italian giants AC Milan, signing for €24m in the subsequent summer but was unable to play until January due to registration issues.
When Pato was eventually allowed to play, he impressed in his breakthrough season, scoring 9 goals in 20 games despite only being 18 years old. He would then go on to score 18 goals in 42 games in 2009, which saw him win the FIFA Golden Boy and Serie A Young Player of the Year Awards. He was also AC Milan’s top goal scorer in the league in the 2010-11 season in which the team won the Serie A title. However, the next season would be a turning point in Pato’s career, with the talented youngster suffering 3 hamstring injuries in less than a year. He would continue to have an impact on the team when playing that season, but it would signal the start of an injury plagued career for the forward. Pato continued to experience injury after injury, and with pace being a big part of his game, the injuries started to take a toll on his performances on the pitch. In 2012, Pato was voted the worst player in Serie A, showing how the injuries had turned the player’s fortunes around in such a short space of time. In 2013, Pato moved back home to Brazil in order to join Corinthians and regain some form and confidence, but in reality, the player would never return to the heights he previously set. This is evidenced by the fact that he has not played for the Brazil national team since his first season at Corinthians, and has spent most of his career on loan at various clubs in Brazil.
Ledley King was a one club man, with the centre-half spending his entire career at Tottenham Hotspur, making 268 appearances over a 13-year period before he decided to call an end to his career at 31 years old in 2012. Ledley King suffered chronic knee problems throughout his career, and in the latter stages he did not even train with the team and had to train on his own as his knees would not be able to handle playing one game a week alongside team training. Despite his injury problems, King still possessed great pace for a central defender, and this, paired with him being great in the air, having an excellent ability to read the game and being comfortable on the ball meant that King was a striker’s worst nightmare when he was fit enough to play. Whilst on his road to the Spurs first team his play style was likened to England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, which shows how highly rated the centre-back was.
Despite his undeniable quality, King only ever won 1 trophy in his career, captaining Spurs to a Carling Cup victory over Chelsea in 2008. He also only made 21 appearances for the England national team. I believe that King would most certainly would have had a much better career if it weren’t due to injuries, as on his day, he was arguably the best centre-back in the Premier League in an era blessed with great centre-backs such as Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.
Marco Van Basten
Former striker Marco van Basten unfortunately had to retire at the age of 28, playing his last game in professional football in the first ever UEFA Champions League final for AC Milan against Marseille in 1993. To many, Marco van Basten is a football great, scoring 24 goals in 58 caps for the Dutch national team as well as 218 goals in 280 club appearances across his time at AC Milan and Ajax. He is also well known for his iconic volley for the Netherlands in the Euro 1988 Final against the Soviet Union, with the Netherlands winning this final and van Basten picking up the golden boot for the tournament with 5 goals.
Van Basten picked up the prestigious Ballon D’Or award 3 times in his career, with his unique play-style of being technically gifted and acrobatic, yet also having the physique to not be bullied by defenders as he was 6 ft 3 tall, gaining plaudits around the world. When people talk about the greatest player of all time, they typically focus on 4 players; Messi, Ronaldo, Pele and Maradona. Van Basten’s Ballon D’Or total can only be beaten by Messi (6) and Ronaldo (5), despite his career being plagued by injuries and him having to retire before arguably hitting the peak age of his career. He was also successful at both club and international level, winning the Euros with Holland as discussed above, as well as 3 Eredivise titles and the Cup Winners’ Cup with Ajax and 3 Serie A titles and 2 European Cups with AC Milan. This shows that Marco van Basten had a big influence in any team he played in. With great players, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, also saying “There will never be a player like van Basten again”, this makes us question if Marco van Basten could have been the greatest player of all time if injuries did not hamper his career.
French midfielder Abou Diaby played for various French clubs at youth level, including PSG, before making his professional debut at Auxerre. He made 10 appearances for the club, before going on to join English giants Arsenal in the 2006 January transfer window. Upon joining Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger likened him to legend Patrick Viera due to his size and athleticism, although the midfielder also showed attacking prowess. He would go on to make 16 appearances for Arsenal in the remainder of that season, including 2 in Arsenal’s road to the Champions League final. Unfortunately, Diaby’s season was cut short after suffering a potentially career ending injury against Sunderland. He then spent 8 months on the side-line and subsequently missed the Champions League final.
Diaby had his best spell in an Arsenal shirt 2009-10 season, where he formed a formidable partnership with Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas. His form at Arsenal saw him recalled to the French national team, where he made 6 appearances. In the next season he suffered many injuries, and never got a consistent run without them. This went on for many seasons, and in games he played he had a sizeable influence, but the issue was that he could not get on the pitch frequently enough. Due to his talent, Arsenal stuck by him through his period of injuries, but after the situation seemed to get worse rather than better, with the midfielder only making 1 appearance in each of his last 2 seasons, Arsenal finally gave up on Diaby and released the player in 2015. The player then moved to Marseille and continued to suffer from injuries, making 6 appearances over a 2-year spell. He then decided to hang up his boots aged 32, only making 136 club appearances over his entire career. A player of Diaby’s quality most certainly would have made more appearances if it wasn’t for injury, and perhaps would have made the impact that Arsenal fans and Arsene Wenger always thought he was capable of.
Do you think these players would have achieved a lot more in their career or do you think they were overrated but hid behind their injuries? Let us know what you think, and if you think we have missed any, comment down below. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Twitter for regular high-quality content!
By Ryan Mcgarry – Twitter – @Ryan__Mcgarry