A number of football’s top talents are currently sidelined with serious anterior cruciate ligament injuries, leading to serious questions about the reasons why.
Earlier this season, Manchester United defender Raphael Varane – who has retired from international duty at the age of 30 – criticised football’s governing bodies for overloading the calendar, which he stated is “dangerous” for players’ “physical and mental well-being”.
Some have posited the extra-long games, due to an increase in injury time, are a factor, while some have suggested that long VAR breaks and stop-start matches are a potential reason for muscular injuries.
Whatever the reason, and it may well simply be coincidence, it’s hard to look past the number of stars that are currently out of action with ACL injuries. We’ve put together a full XI of players worth in the region of £500million that are currently sidelined.
GK: Thibaut Courtois
Real Madrid’s 2023-24 campaign was dealt a major blow before it even began, when Courtois – arguably the best goalkeeper in world football – ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in early August.
The 31-year-old Belgium international will remain sidelined until 2024, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll return in time for the run-in and the latter stages of the Champions League come spring.
“My recovery is going very well, I don’t use crutches anymore,” Courtois said in October.
“Now I walk and work… I hope to be back as soon as possible.”
The timing did allow Los Blancos to go out and sign Spain international Kepa Arrizabalaga on loan from Chelsea, but he’s just a placeholder until their No.1 is fit and available once again.
LB: Ivan Perisic
Like Courtois, Perisic sustained a complex ACL injury in training. The problem with his right knee required surgery and may now be sidelined until next season.
The experienced Croatia international shared an inspirational quote from basketball legend Michael Jordan on Instagram after news of the horror injury broke in September.
— Tom Barclay (@TomBarclay_) September 21, 2023
CB: Tyrone Mings
Thirty-one minutes into Aston Villa’s 2023-24 opener away to Newcastle, their key defender had to be stretchered off after going down with what looked to be a non-contact muscular injury.
Mings will be sidelined for the entirety of this season, and the severity of his injury was so bad that rumours spread on social media that he’ll be forced into retirement at the age of 30.
But he soon allayed those fears with a post on social media that gave a behind-the-scenes look at his road to recovery.
“Can’t get rid of me that easy! You’re all helping me way more than you realise!” read the caption alongside a fairly gruesome picture that showed the extent of his knee injury.
CB: Eder Militao
Just days after Courtois’ serious injury, Real Madrid were dealt another devastating blow when Militao tore his ACL.
Fortunately, the severity of the tear wasn’t as bad as his team-mates’ and reports suggest that the Brazil international is ahead of schedule for a comeback in the early months of 2024.
CB: Wesley Fofana
Having suffered a broken fibula that kept him out of almost the entirety of the 2021-22 season, Fofana’s poor luck with injuries continued when he tore his ACL during pre-season – setting the tone for what can only be described as an epidemic of such injuries across Europe this year.
“Really sad, really bad news. We feel so sad. All we can do is to help him. We wish him all the best and hope it’s as soon as possible [that he can] be with the team again this season,” Mauricio Pochettino told reporters during Chelsea’s United States tour.
The 22-year-old recently teased a return to training on his Instagram page, prompting hope that he might feature for Pochettino’s Blues sooner rather than later.
RB: Jurrien Timber
Arsenal’s summer signing showed plenty of promise in their Community Shield victory over Manchester City, but a week later disaster struck on Timber’s Premier League debut.
The ACL injury required surgery and while the immediate prognosis suggested he might be back in time for the run-in, recent reports from the Netherlands suggest that the versatile defender might even remain sidelined for Euro 2024 next summer.
🗣️ “A huge blow, especially for him. We recruited him and what he was bringing to the team was evident and he’s not going to be able to do the season for us.”
Mikel Arteta on Jurrien Timber suffering an ACL injury to his knee. 🤕 pic.twitter.com/tTpMp1xZe9
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) August 17, 2023
CM: Emiliano Buendia
Having won out over Philippe Coutinho to nail down his place as the creative heart of Unai Emery’s project at Aston Villa, Buendia’s ACL tear on the eve of the 2023-24 season put a major spanner in the works. He sustained the injury in training and subsequently had an operation after consultation with a knee specialist.
It was initially reported that the Argentinian playmaker will be “out for an extended period of time” and it remains to be seen whether he’ll feature at all for Villa side this season.
The Barcelona starlet looked in immense pain after landing awkwardly midway through the first half of Spain’s match against Georgia. It’s since been revealed he suffered a complete tear of his ACL and an associated injury to the lateral meniscus.
Gavi only turned 19 in the summer, yet he’s already clocked up almost 8000 minutes of senior first-team football – leading to some critics accusing Barcelona of overusing the youngster, while others laid the blame at Spain coach Luis de la Fuente for selecting for a routine Euro 2024 qualifier.
It’s impossible to conclusively hold any one party responsible, and the sad truth is that sometimes injuries are just plain bad luck.
The focus for Gavi will be on his rehab and returning to the pitch in 2024, although the early indications are that he’ll be out for the rest of the season as well as Euro 2024.
🚨 Barça director Deco: “It’s impossible to replace Gavi. There’s no player on the market with his skills, his mentality”.
“It’s wrong to discuss about replacing Gavi as it’s not possible. We will not find a replacement in January”, told EFE. pic.twitter.com/YXgZpDTsgc
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) November 22, 2023
The most marquee signing of the Saudi Pro League’s aggressive summer assault on the European transfer market, Neymar had barely featured for Al-Hilal when he ruptured his ACL and meniscus in his left knee.
The major question is whether he’ll be fit enough to feature for Brazil in the Copa America next summer. There is no specific timetable for the forward’s return to action just yet, but Brazil national team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar has given some positive noises.
“Neymar has been recovering very well,” Lasmar recently told reporters earlier this month.
“[Sunday] I was with the player for a new post-operative assessment, already scheduled. He is recovering very well, of course, still in the initial phase. It’s a complex injury, he ruptured a ligament and needs to be off his feet for a while. Due to the associated injuries, he will go through a lengthy rehabilitation process, he is aware of that. But he has been responding very well, we are satisfied.”
ST: Breel Embolo
Another big name yet to play a minute of competitive action in 2023-24, Embolo suffered a serious ACL injury in training shortly before the season got underway.
The forward scored 12 goals for Monaco last season and is a major absence for the Ligue 1 club. The silver lining is that he ought to be back in time to make Switzerland’s squad for Euro 2024.
FWL: Yeremy Pino
Villarreal winger Pino has been linked with a move to some of Europe’s elite clubs, but he looks set to remain at Villarreal for the foreseeable after suffering a major setback with an ACL tear in his left knee. The 21-year-old Spain international could now miss Euro 2024, having already endured a protracted start to the season after dealing with muscular issues.
“Thanks for messages of support, the countdown begins,” he posted on Instagram after successfully undergoing an operation earlier this week. Marca report that he’ll be out of action for six to eight months.