14 players who returned from long-term injuries: Jones, Ramsey, Cech…
There are few more uplifting sights in football than seeing a player return from a long-term injury and Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool players have all managed to do just that.
Injuries are an unfortunate professional hazard for footballers, almost inevitable at some point but utterly dreaded. When those injuries keep players out for a long time, there is always a lurking fear that their career may be over.
Over the years, though, many have managed to return from long periods on the treatment table, bringing joy to fans as they rise up off the substitutes bench for that first appearance after months or even years.
Here, we round up 14 players who managed to make a long-awaited return.
On January 3, 2022, Jones made his first league appearance for Manchester United in almost two years. United lost to Wolves, but it was still a great personal triumph for the defender.
He had been out with a long-term knee issue and had become something of a figure of fun on social media, seemingly more famous for memes of his contorted face than the fact he was once one of England’s most promising players.
“I’ve been through hell and back over the last couple of years,” Jones told the United website in September 2021. “I struggled with my knee a little bit and (there) came a point after lockdown where I thought enough was enough.
“I kept myself in great shape over lockdown and came back. But I remember just training out here [at Carrington] and going into the doc and saying ‘enough’s enough’. Unfortunately, there was going to be time off the pitch, which I knew was going to be difficult for me, but it was something that I had to do.
“Thankfully, I see the light at the end of the tunnel now and I’ve been back training, played a few behind-closed-doors games and I’m feeling really good at the minute.”
We’re sure he felt even better after the comeback.
Say what you want about Phil Jones, but this is him leaving the pitch in the last match in tears. First game in 2 years, abused daily by fans and drops a MOTM performance. You have to be happy for him. pic.twitter.com/Obmz1CNtsg
— Amy (@teamshaw_23) January 4, 2022
After Jones returned, his team-mate Shaw praised him to high heaven, saying: “Phil Jones should be proud of himself.
“He has been criticised for years and has gone through a lot, but he is so professional and he has trained hard and he was phenomenal. He was exceptional, I am very happy for him and he deserves it.”
It’s little wonder, seeing as Shaw has been through something similar himself.
A horrendous leg break in September 2015, just as he was becoming one of United’s most important players, put Shaw out for 11 months.
It took far longer for him to truly recover his confidence though, with his struggles owing to Jose Mourinho’s public bullying of him well publicised.
In 2020-21, however, he once more came to the fore as one of the best full-backs in the world, standing out for the Red Devils and then for England at Euro 2020 and, most importantly, earning the nickname Shawberto Carlos.
Another United man on this list, Ibrahimovic suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury as well as other damage in a Europa League game against Anderlecht in April 2017.
Seven months later, he returned, which was quicker than expected. Predictably, he reacted by comparing himself to the king of the jungle.
“I told you, lions don’t recover like humans,” Ibrahimovic told MUTV. “That I have now proved, rather than just saying it.”
Three years ago today, Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench to do this on his LA Galaxy debut 🇺🇸
Simply outrageous 😂pic.twitter.com/HLt1fM3vMm
— GOAL (@goal) March 31, 2021
Cech had to be treated for a depressed skull fracture when he collided with Stephen Hunt’s knee at Reading’s Madejski Stadium in 2006.
He suffered headaches for weeks after and later admitted he had no memory of the day on which the incident happened.
Yet he came back in January 2007 and continued wearing his rugby-style headguard until the end of his career over a decade later. Unsurprisingly, he has been active in speaking out about protecting players from head injuries.
A sad one, this.
Holden had been playing brilliantly for Bolton, helping them to seventh in the league and the FA Cup semi-finals, when he was severely injured in a horrific challenge from Manchester United’s Jonny Evans in March 2011.
He did come back 16 months later, much to the delight of Wanderers supporters. But the American only played three more times for Bolton and four times on loan at Sheffield Wednesday before being forced to hang up his boots.
The Swedish goal machine suffered a career-threatening double leg break while playing for Celtic in 1999 at the age of 28, spending eight months on the sidelines.
Yet he came back and managed six more major trophies with the Bhoys, two La Liga titles and a Champions League with Barcelona, a Swedish Cup with Helsingborg and a Premier League title during a short loan spell with Manchester United. Not bad if you ask us.
One of the most famous injuries on this list, Ramsey sustained a double leg break under a challenge from Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross in 2010.
For some reason we can’t really understand, Stoke fans subsequently booed Ramsey for having the temerity to have been egregiously assaulted by one of their players.
Still, Ramsey returned, won two FA Cups with Arsenal, got to the semi-final of Euro 2016 with Wales and currently earns a reported £400,000 a week at Juventus. Decent way to bounce back.
Shearer had two long-term layoffs, first at Blackburn, then at his beloved Newcastle, missing 30 and 33 games, respectively. Both times, though, he returned and kept up his scoring form, even though he admits he’d lost “half a yard” of pace after the second injury.
A recurrence of the knee problem suffered at Blackburn also ended his career three months early in 2006.
For Ruschel, the layoff was far from your normal footballer injury story.
Ruschel was a part of the Chapecoense squad that was travelling to the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final in Colombia when their plane crashed, killing 71 people, including 19 players.
Ruschel was one of three players who survived but was told in the hospital shortly after his arrival that he might never walk again, never mind play football owing to back injuries he had sustained.
The Brazilian went through months of rehabilitation, however, and eventually made a tentative return in a friendly with Barcelona at Camp Nou in 2017.
After those friendlies, Ruschel kept working on his fitness and even returned to competitive action. In 2020, he was part of the squad that led Chape back into the Brazilian top flight, winning Serie B.
“I’m a Chapecoense survivor, but also a Chapecoense champion,” Ruschel told the Guardian in 2021. “Football is my eternal bond with the club and my team-mates. Returning to Chape and racking up titles was my way to pay homage to all of them.”
Ronaldo at his peak was quite arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen. But that peak was unfortunately cut short by two horrific knee injuries, the first of which came when he was playing for Inter Milan in 1999.
It took Ronaldo five months to return, but just six minutes into his comeback substitute appearance against Lazio in the first leg of the Coppa Italia final, he went down again and this time it was far worse.
“When he returned for that match, he ripped the knee-cap tendon completely. His knee-cap actually exploded and it ended up in the middle of his thigh,” Ronaldo’s physio Nilton Petrone told FourFourTwo.
The second injury kept Ronaldo out for all of 2000-01 and much of 2001-02, with the Inter Milan doctors adamant he’d miss the 2002 World Cup as well. But thanks to Brazil’s physios and Ronaldo’s work ethic he did return – and it was some return, too.
#OnThisDay in 2002, Ronaldo made up for the disappointment of 1998 by scoring twice as Brazil beat Germany in the World Cup final.
Anyone else have a mate who was brave enough to get that haircut? A mate, honest…pic.twitter.com/erYLVdOrEe
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) June 30, 2020
Forshaw’s start against Crewe in the League Cup in August 2021 was his first appearance for Leeds in almost two years after a long battle with a hip issue.
He was initially injured in Autumn 2019 and spent two years undergoing surgery and rehabbing at the training ground. As a result, he has missed more Leeds games out injured than he’s played in since joining the club in 2018.
In 2021-22, though, he’s making up for lost time with some strong displays in Marcelo Bielsa’s midfield.
Virgil van Dijk
Another very famous case, Van Dijk’s ACL was torn in a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, leading to the Liverpool captain spending over nine months on the sidelines.
The Reds’ form really suffered in his absence. But since his return, he’s looked as sharp as ever, helping Liverpool to some excellent results and performances in 2021-22.
Keane missed almost all of the 1997-98 season with a cruciate ligament injury and the story that surrounds the incident is one of the Premier League’s most told.
The midfielder was crocked trying to tackle Leeds’ Alf Inge Haaland, who, while Keane was prostrate, stood over the Irishman accusing him of feigning injury.
Eventually, the United captain returned and at the first opportunity exacted his revenge. With Haaland by that time at Manchester City, Keane went in with a crunching challenge in the derby at Maine Road. Keane was sent off and Haaland hardly played again.
Not that Keane ever expressed any regret. In his autobiography, he wrote: “I’d waited long enough. I fucking hit [Haaland] hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c*nt. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.”
A heart-warming one to finish.
Abidal was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver and operated on in March 2011. He was able to return relatively quickly and played in Barcelona’s Champions League final win over Manchester United.
But the problem had not been fully solved and he was required to undergo a liver transplant in March 2012. The surgery was a complete success this time and Abidal finally returned again in April 2013.
He left Barca that summer but managed another full season at Monaco, playing beyond his 34th birthday.
I think often about the time Alex Song genuinely thought Carles Puyol wanted him to lift La Liga trophy ahead of liver cancer survivor Eric Abidal pic.twitter.com/DMO5pz2mzF
— Adam Boultwood (@adamboultwood) August 13, 2019