Virgil van Dijk: 9 world-class players who suffered ACL injuries, including Ibrahimovic, Xavi and Keane

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Liverpool’s task of defending their Premier League title became significantly more difficult on Saturday when Virgil van Dijk suffered a serious injury against Everton.

The Liverpool centre-back was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the early stages of the Merseyside derby.

It’s since been confirmed that the 29-year-old has damaged his anterior cruciate ligament, with the Mirror describing it as a grade three tear.

That’s the worst level, meaning that Van Dijk’s ligament was torn in half. 

While Liverpool haven’t put a time-frame on his return to action, the average length of time it takes to recover from such an injury can be from six to 12 months.

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It’s a bitter blow for Liverpool and Van Dijk, but medical advancements mean that ACL injuries can be treated in ways that allow players to return to a high level.

Van Dijk joins a long list of players to have injured their ACL, with some overcoming the setback and others struggling to play at their peak ever again.

Here are nine other high-profile stars who suffered the dreaded ACL injury.

1. Roy Keane

Manchester United were without their influential midfielder Roy Keane for virtually all of the 1997/98 season after he injured his ACL while trying to tackle Leeds United’s Alf-Inge Haaland.

Haaland later accused Keane of feigning his reaction, which didn’t go down well with the Irishman.

Without Keane, Man United relinquished their Premier League title to Arsenal.

However, the combative midfielder returned to win several trophies with the Red Devils, including the treble in 1998/99.

He wasn’t the same box-to-box enforcer after the injury, but his performance against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final in 1999 showed he was still capable of producing world class performances.

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2. Radamel Falcao

Colombian striker Radamel Falcao was struck down in his prime after tearing his ACL while playing for Monaco in January 2014.

The injury forced Falcao to miss the World Cup and he struggled during loan spells in England with Man United and Chelsea.

It wouldn’t be the end of El Tigre as a fantastic finisher, though. Upon his return to Monaco, he led them to Ligue 1 glory in 2016/17 with 21 goals in 29 appearances, and he continued to score plenty of goals before signing for Galatasaray in 2019.

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3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s first season at Man United came to an early end when he tore his ACL in a Europa League fixture against Anderlecht.

The Swedish forward had impressed before the setback, scoring 28 goals in all competitions for the Red Devils, and his swift recovery helped him earn a one-year contract extension at the club.

Ibrahimovic posted several videos showing his recovery progress.

But at the age of 35, it was always going to be difficult for Ibra to get back to his best and he terminated his contract early to join LA Galaxy in March 2018.

Yet two years in the United States breathed new life into Zlatan, and he’s now enjoying a renaissance with AC Milan.

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4. Alan Shearer

Another striker who had injury woes was Alan Shearer.

The No.9 snapped his ACL during his debut season with Blackburn Rovers, bringing a premature end to a season in which he had scored 16 goals in 21 league games.

Shearer bounced back in style though, scoring 31 goals in 40 games the following season and winning the Football Writers’ Player of the Year award.

He continued to score with regularity at Newcastle United and finished his career as the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer with 260 goals, which is still a record.

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5. Marco Reus

Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus has had rotten injury luck. You wonder what he might have achieved had he not been so unfortunate.

In May 2017, the German suffered a partial cruciate ligament tear in his right knee and didn’t play again until 2018.

Reus returned to represent Germany at the 2018 World Cup but he’s continued to pick up injuries in the two years since.

6. Roberto Baggio

There were fears that Roberto Baggio’s career was over before it had even started when, at the age of 18, he ruptured his ACL and tore his meniscus in his right knee.

Baggio played for Vicenza at the time but Fiorentina weren’t put off from signing him in 1985.

The Italian battled knee injuries throughout his career - he suffered further knee ligament issues a year after joining Fiorentina - but there were few better players than The Divine Ponytail around at the time.

And he recovered from the early setbacks in his career to win the Ballon d’Or with Juventus in 1993 and also represent AC Milan and Inter Milan.

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7. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Ruud van Nistelrooy was set to join Man United in 2000 after scoring 29 goals in 23 Eredivisie appearances for PSV Eindhoven in 1999/2000.

But a devastating injury days before he was due to be unveiled scuppered the move, with Van Nistelrooy out of action for a year.

The Dutchman had ruptured the ACL in his right knee and his move to Old Trafford was off.

Fortunately for the striker, Sir Alex Ferguson was still interested and the deal was completed the following summer.

Van Nistelrooy rewarded Ferguson for showing faith in him by scoring 150 goals in 219 games.

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8. Alessandro Del Piero

Italian forward Alessandro Del Piero spent a year on the sidelines after injuring his ACL in 1998.

Del Piero was on fire at the time. He had scored 32 goals to help Juventus win the Serie A title and reach the final of the Champions League the previous season.

He was never as prolific in front of goal after the injury, but he did adapt his playstyle to cope with the loss of pace. Instead, he flourished in a deeper role.

Del Piero would stay at Juve for 13 more seasons and was also part of the Italy side that won the World Cup in 2006.

The iconic forward ended up playing into his 40s, eventually retiring in 2015 following spells in Australia and India.

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9. Xavi

Barcelona were without Xavi for part of the 2005/06 season after he tore the ACL in his right knee during a training session.

He returned in time to help Barcelona seal the La Liga title and was also on the bench for the Champions League final win over Arsenal.

Missing just five months marked a swift return for the midfielder and he was fit to represent his country at the 2006 World Cup.

And he proved that the injury was nothing but a minor distraction by going on to enjoy a remarkable career with Barcelona and Spain, winning every major trophy possible for club and country.

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