Five players who came back fighting after horror injuries

Petr Cech the Chelsea goalkeeper shouts instructions to his defence during the Barclays Premier League match between Bolton Wanderers and Chelsea at the Reebok Stadium on December 6, 2008...

Our list of the greatest recoveries in football history, featuring Celtic, Manchester United, and Chelsea greats.

5 Aug 2000:  Henrik Larsson of Celtic in an aerial battle with Benito Kemble of Motherwell during the Scottish Premier League match played at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Celtic won...Henrik Larsson of Celtic in an aerial battle with Benito Kemble of Motherwell.

Football is a tough sport. For every match that shows off the delicacy and athleticism of the beautiful game, there's a fraught and frantic contest where physicality and grit are the only things saving your team a point come the final whistle. Players can't afford to have a fragile mentality with so much on the line, and being resilient - being able to keep battling after going a goal down - is absolutely crucial.

When it comes to having that fighter's mentality, there's probably no greater test than the ability to bounce back after a nasty injury. The road to recovery can be long and full of frustrations. Having the grit and determination to get back to full fitness - and keep playing at a high level - is an amazing achievement. The more horrible the injury is, the more impressive the recovery, which is why we've compiled a list of those players who not only bounced back but possibly played even better upon their return.


5. Henrik Larsson - Celtic

21 Oct 1999:  Henrik Larsson of Celtic suffers a broken leg during the UEFA Cup second round first leg match against Lyon at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, France. \ Mandatory Credit: Clive...Henrik Larsson of Celtic suffers a broken leg during the UEFA Cup second round against Lyon.

If you were to ask a footballer which injury they most feared, a broken leg would be the most likely response. Many players never quite recover after a serious fracture to that most crucial of body parts, and a bad compound fracture can leave little choice but early retirement. Celtic's Henrik Larsson was 28 years old when a bad challenge from Serge Blanc broke his leg in two places during an important UEFA Cup tie away to Lyon. He was reaching the peak of his career, and many players would struggle to rediscover form after such an enormous set-back.

Not only did Larsson recover, but - after a lengthy lay-off - he won the European Golden Boot: scoring 35 league goals in 38 competitions as Celtic won the domestic treble. The rampaging Swede would even go on to claim the injury made him a better player.

4. Neymar - Brazil

Defender Marcelo shouts for help after Brazil's forward Neymar was injured during the quarter-final football match between Brazil and Colombia at the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during...Marcelo shouts for help after Brazil's forward Neymar was injured during the quarter-final between Brazil and Colombia

When it comes to horror injuries, anything affecting the spine should strike fear into the hearts of spectators. Part way through Brazil's quarter-final with Colombia at the 2014 World Cup, an awkward clash with Colombia's Juan Camilo Zúñiga saw Neymar Jr. go down in agony. According to later reports, he told his teammate Marcelo - the first to run to his assistance - that he couldn't feel his legs.

Had the injury been a few inches lower, there's a strong likelihood Neymar's entire career may have ended that night in July. But thankfully, it proved not to be so severe. Remarkably, the young Brazilian was back training within a few months and went on to enjoy arguably his greatest season in a FC Barcelona shirt: winning the treble and scoring 39 goals in all competitions.   

3. Andy Cole - Manchester United

13 Mar 1997:  Andy Cole of Manchester United13 Mar 1997: Andy Cole of Manchester United

 There's an old saying in football: the only thing worse than a broken leg is two broken legs. The prolific Andy Cole was unfortunate enough to fall victim to such a fate, courtesy of a bad tackle from Neil Ruddock during a reserve game against Liverpool. Incredibly, Cole was able to recover in a matter of months, making his way back into the Manchester United team by December and going on to finish the season on a high. His goal against Porto in the Champions League was voted the competition's best for that year, and he scored a title-deciding goal at Anfield (where his horror injury took place, months earlier). Not only did Andy Cole recover, the following season was his finest for the club as he scored 25 goals in all competitions.

2. Petr Cech - Chelsea

Reading, UNITED KINGDOM:  Chelsea's goalkeeper Petr Cech (C) lies injured in the first few minutes of the game after a tackle from Stephen Hunt (R) of Reading during the Premiership... Chelsea's goalkeeper Petr Cech (C) lies injured after a tackle from Stephen Hunt (R) of Reading.

Although outfield players get injured far more frequently, bravery is one of the most important attributes of a world-class goalkeeper. If Petr Cech's outstanding ability to marshall the goal was in any doubt during his first couple of seasons playing for Chelsea, then the way he put his body on the line in that infamous game against Reading would have silenced any doubters.

Cech suffered a depressed skull fracture which doctors claimed could have cost him his life. In the end, it only cost him three months on the sidelines before he resumed his duties as Chelsea's no. 1. The injury might have left him shaken, but by the time he left Chelsea some nine years later, he had established a goalkeeping record at the club which will take some beating: with 228 clean sheets to his name in eleven years.

1. Ronaldo - Inter Milan

Brazilian forward Ronaldo (L) shoots past German keeper Oliver Kahn 30 June 2002 during  the GermanyBrazilian forward Ronaldo (L) shoots past German keeper Oliver Kahn during the 2002 World Cup Final

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima had some rotten luck as a player. His incredible abundance of raw talent was matched perhaps only by the number of debilitating injuries he faced during his time as a professional. A series of horrific knee injuries plagued him after his historic transfer to Inter Milan in 1997 (he became only the second player, after Diego Maradona, to break the world transfer record twice), with the star Brazilian missing the entirety of the 2000-01 season and hardly playing for the club in the first half of 2002.

With 2002 being a World Cup year, plenty of people probably thought Ronaldo (and perhaps Brazil) cursed. Four years prior, on the eve of the 1998 World Cup Final, he suffered a bizarre seizure which should have kept him from playing. (His lacklustre performance in the game set off an inquisition back home, as fans and even politicians demanded to know what had happened). Only the most optimistic of football fans would have expected Ronaldo to be at the top of his game going into that tournament, and his world-beating performance in the competition has to be counted as one of the greatest acts of resilience which the world of football has ever seen. Winning the Golden Boot, winning the whole damn thing: he didn't just bounce back, he roared back into action.

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