Beyond the pain barrier
Modern-day footballers are often criticised for a perceived lack of physical toughness, with players who roll around on the turf after picking up the slightest of knocks criticised particularly heavily. In this slideshow, we move to the other end of the spectrum by picking out 10 stars who played through the pain barrier.
Beckham and Owen shut down in Shizuoka
David Beckham’s metatarsal became history's most Googled bone after it was broken by Aldo Duscher less than two months before the 2002 World Cup. Beckham made it to Japan and South Korea, but he wasn’t operating anywhere near full capacity and in the quarter-final his leap over a tackle led to a Brazil counter-attack and the equalising goal.
Michael Owen had given England the lead that day, but the Liverpool ace later revealed he hadn’t trained all week because of a tight groin. Little wonder the Three Lions lost 2-1.
Butcher draws blood
England centre-back Terry Butcher’s legendary courage was never more needed than in a crucial 1989 World Cup qualifier in Stockholm. Early in the game, he suffered a deep cut to his forehead after a clash with the ‘express train from Kalleback’, Johnny Ekstrom.
Stitched up and swathed in bandages, the Ipswich and Rangers legend repelled ball after ball with his head, which only served to reopen the wound as England secured the draw they needed to qualify for Italia 90. By the end of the match, the blood-soaked Butcher looked more Rocky Balboa than international footballer.
Cristiano decimates his body for La Decima
Even the most sculpted footballer in the world doesn’t have an indestructible body. After gingerly running through the 120 minutes of Real Madrid’s 2014 Champions League Final win against Atletico, carrying knee and thigh injuries, Ronaldo ripped off his shirt off to show the visible parts were still in working order.
However, he suffered for it at the subsequent World Cup for Portugal, where he appeared half-fit at best. "If I'd stopped, I would have been fine,” he later reflected. “I didn't want to miss the final of the Champions League or the World Cup. I wasn't fully fit, but I forced the issue.”
Vincent Kompany gets some rearranged face time
The Belgian defender isn't the luckiest with injuries, so you can hardly blame the man for trying to play on. In a 2013 World Cup qualifier, the unfortunate stopper crashed into Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic after going up for a corner and coming off worst.
Despite later being diagnosed with a broken nose, a cracked eye socket and mild concussion, the Manchester City star returned to play out the last 60 minutes as Belgium won 2-1 to take top spot in the group.
Ally Maxwell cannae move but wins the cup
Nicknamed ‘the family final’, this 1991 Scottish Cup decider featured Tommy McLean and brother Jim in direct managerial opposition as Motherwell took on Dundee United. There was nothing overly friendly about how the match eventually played out.
Motherwell were leading 3-1 when keeper Ally Maxwell was kneed in the stomach in a collision with Dundee’s John Clark in the second half. As there were no substitute keepers to call upon, Maxwell had to play on despite significant injuries to his ribs and spleen. It was all worth it, though: the stand-in custodian pulled off a brilliant save to help his side win the game 4-3.
Beckenbauer refuses to sling his hook
The bare facts are that West Germany lost 4-3 to Italy in the 1970 World Cup semi-final in Mexico City. Yet the scoreline only tells a tiny part of the story of ‘the game of the century’, as it was eventually dubbed.
After going 1-0 down early on, the Germans and Franz Beckenbauer bossed the game, bombarding the Italian ranks until Azzurri defender Pierluigi Cera fouled Der Kaiser in the 70th minute. The manner in which Beckenbauer fell left him with a broken collarbone and a dislocated shoulder. With both substitutes used, the Bayern Munich man played with his arm in a sling for the remainder of the game and extra time – almost an hour in agonising total.
Martin Palermo runs through walls
Boca Juniors striker Martin Palermo tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a meeting with Colon in 1999 but, without knowing the extent of the injury, stayed on the pitch to score his 100th goal in the Argentine First Division.
He returned to action just six months later, hobbling on for the last 15 minutes of a Copa Libertadores quarter-final against rivals River Plate and scoring once more to help send Boca into the semis. What’s the Spanish for 'tough cookie'?
Stuart Pearce gives broken leg the boot
In 1999, England’s most rugged left-back broke his leg after a collision with Micah Hyde of Watford, and yet hobbled on until half-time. West Ham manager Harry Redknapp told reporters after the match that Stuart Pearce got his boot back on at the break because he wanted to go out for the second period.
“Stuart tried to come back for the second half,” Redknapp explained. “He put his boot back on and said 'I'll give it a go'. What an amazing character. He tried so hard to put his weight on the leg, but there was no way. Even he can't run off such a bad injury.”
Ronaldo’s fit before France
The 21-year-old Brazilian forward suffered a mysterious, convulsive fit hours before the biggest match of his life, the 1998 World Cup Final against France in Paris. Ronaldo was rushed to hospital and, although nothing serious was found after three hours of tests, the medics were keen to dissuade him from playing in the showpiece.
Yet Ronaldo did play after Brazil manager Mario Zagallo hurriedly scratched Edmundo from the teamsheet in a chaotic build-up which spouted all kinds of conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go well, with the hosts winning 3-0.
Kev gives injury the finger
As a youth on Sheffield market, Kevin Davies was a butcher’s assistant, sweeping offal from the floor. During his later career as a centre-forward, he played on in various games with a broken foot (he had an injection and carried on), one dislocated and three broken fingers (he carried on and scored the winner) – perhaps most wince-inducing of all, given his taste for aerial battles – a fractured cheekbone.
The maxillofacial mishap came at Charlton in August 2006, when after 28 minutes Herman Hreidarsson’s stray elbow smashed into the Sheffielder’s mush (and earned the Icelander a red card). Of course, he played on. “As players, you just have to take it,” he said later. “I’ve caught elbows in my time and I've got on with it. It's a contact sport." He did have chance to recover afterwards, while serving a ban – for his own red card late in the second half.
Bert’s unbroken spirit
German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann was a beloved figure at Manchester City, thanks in large part to his heroics in the 1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham. The Citizens had taken a 3-1 lead at Wembley when, in the 73rd minute, the glovesman dived at the feet of striker Peter Murphy.
The collision between the pair injured the keeper’s neck and left him briefly unconscious. As no substitutes were permitted, Trautmann would either have to leave City with 10 men or play on. He chose the latter despite being in considerable pain, before making two more crucial saves to see the game out. Three days later, an X-ray revealed a broken neck.
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