The most gruesome injuries in soccer history

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Jason Ence

November 18th, 2020

In our latest instalment of our popular "most gruesome injury" series, we turn our attention to the world’s game.

Due to the nature of the sport, soccer injuries tend to involve a higher percentage of leg injuries than any others we have discussed, which in turn leads to more career-threatening incidents.

Please be advised that some of the accompanying videos you will see in our list of the most gruesome injuries in soccer history are highly graphic. Viewer discretion is strongly encouraged.

1. Patrick Battiston (July 1982)

Our first injury took place in the semifinal match of the 1982 World Cup, as France took on West Germany in Seville, Spain. Considered one of the greatest World Cup matches ever, the lasting legacy of the meeting is marred by a very controversial incident.

Battiston, a French defender, came into the match as a second-half substitute, and 10 minutes later found himself with a chance to score. Played in by the legend Michel Platini, he raced into the area and took a first-time shot just past the post as German keeper Toni Schumacher raced towards him.

Schumacher, who was already upset about incidents earlier in the match and the way the crowd behind his goal was taunting him, did not pull up or try to slow down. Instead, as cameras followed the ball out of play, the keeper leapt into the air, intentionally contorting his body to crash into Battiston. The impact of Schumacher’s hip into Battiston’s face was catastrophic.

The collision knocked Battiston unconscious, causing him to drop to the ground in a heap. He suffered the loss of three teeth, but more importantly was left with vertebrae damage in his back. Medics raced out to help him, having to administer oxygen before taking him off the pitch where he later slipped into a coma. Battiston would recover, and continued to play for France until 1989, retiring from club football in 1991.

The shocking part of the incident was that, where France should have been awarded a penalty and Schumacher should have seen a red card, the referee did absolutely nothing. No punishment was merited, and Germany would go on to win the match via penalty shoot-out in which—you guessed it—Schumacher was the hero as he stopped a pair of attempts.

2. David Busst (April 1996)

The injury suffered by David Busst against Manchester United was one of the most gruesome soccer injuries in Premier League history, and led to the player enduring a total of 22 surgeries to his leg, which he nearly lost to infection. It also ended his career in the sport after just five years.

Busst was a defender for Coventry City and found himself in the Manchester United box for a corner kick just two minutes into the game. As he attempted to poke home a rebound following a save from United keeper Peter Schmeichel, he collided with United defender Denis Irwin. The impact caused a series of compound fractures in his right leg, snapping both his tibia and fibula. The bones sticking through his skin caused high volumes of blood to pool around his leg, staining the ground red and requiring sand and water to remove.

Schmeichel was immediately sickened and flung the ball out of play, before vomiting behind the goal. Meanwhile, Busst was rushed to the hospital, where he developed MRSA and nearly had to have the leg amputated. He was in the hospital at least once a week for the next 25 weeks, and eventually announced his retirement in August upon advice from his doctors.

3. Luc Nilis (September 2000)

Much like Busst, the leg injury suffered by Luc Nilis nearly led to his leg being amputated after he suffered a double-compound fracture. Nilis collided with Ipswitch Town keeper Richard Wright just four minutes into his third match with Aston Villa, as he attempted to run onto a pass in the area. His leg was seen to have broken and wrapped around the back of the keeper’s leg, turned at a ninety-degree angle to the left and parallel with the ground.

Nilis announced his retirement from professional soccer just four months later, after nearly losing his leg due to infection that doctors believed would require amputation. Nilis would also battle years of depression and mental health issues as a result of the career-ending incident.

4. Petr Cech (October 2006)

While a few of our injuries involved keepers causing the damage, Petr Cech’s injury nearly saw a keeper not only lose his career but possibly his life. Just fifteen seconds into a match against Reading, Cech slid down to collect a loose ball in the area. Reading midfielder Steven Hunt, starting a Premier League match for the first time, raced to beat him to the ball, and as he tried to evade the keeper his knee collided with the side of Cech’s head.

Cech initially looked to have simply been knocked silly, but referee Mike Riley sensed that something was seriously wrong with the keeper. As is the case with many triplets, Cech had a thin skull over the area where he was hit, which led to his skull being fractured by the impact. He was able to talk and told trainers he was having trouble with his vision, which led them to rush him to the hospital as it became obvious this was more than a concussion.

Cech would spend 10 days in the hospital, nearly dying as doctors discovered broken pieces of his skull were traveling into his brain. They inserted multiple metal plates into his skull and jaw to repair the damage and provide stability. Doctors told him not to play again that season, but he returned to the pitch just three months later, wearing a specially-made rugby-style foam headguard that he would wear for the remainder of his long, decorated career.

Cech has no memory of the incident or the moments leading up to it, but his injury is remembered by many. It led to multiple changes in how head injuries are dealt with within the sport, and the length of time it took to get him to an ambulance due to the stadium layout led to changes in game day procedures. Cech would play in the Premier League another thirteen years, winning multiple individual awards, multiple Premier League trophies, and a Champions League title.

5. Eduardo da Silva (February 2008)

Our final gruesome soccer injury is one of the most remembered in the Premier League, and not only altered the course of a player’s career but likely cost Arsenal a Premier League trophy. Just two minutes into a match with Birmingham City, Eduardo began a run through the middle of the pitch. As Birmingham midfielder Martin Taylor closed in, Eduardo made a quick touch to the side. Martin lunged in with a high boot, catching Eduardo directly on the ankle.

His foot caught in the ground, Eduardo’s ankle immediately dislocated and his left fibula broke in half, breaking through the skin. Arsenal players were visibly distraught in the following moments, as teammate Cesc Fabregas immediately began ushering on medical personnel and a stretcher team. The injury was so bad, the commentators immediately informed viewers that they could not show replays of the incident. Taylor was sent off with a straight red card for the tackle.

The Gunners would give away a late penalty and draw the match 2-2, a result that began a downward spiral for the club and cost them their lead in the Premier League as they failed to win any of their next three matches and took just seven points from their next seven outings.

As for Eduardo, he didn't return to the pitch for just shy of an entire year, and was a shell of the promising talent he was before the injury. He left Arsenal in the summer of 2010 when he signed with a team in Ukraine, and never played in a top-flight league ever again.