Leon de Kogel: 'I said goodbye to my kids and my loved ones'

Leon de Kogel
Leon de Kogel is still recovering from the car accident he suffered in June

One minute Leon de Kogel was living his childhood dream, the next he was left praying he would just be able to kick a ball in the garden with his two young sons again.

The Dutch footballer was enjoying a holiday in Malta with his friends in June when the car he was travelling in was involved in a head-on collision with a taxi, crushing his left leg.

De Kogel began saying his goodbyes. He was convinced he was dying.

But waking up in a Maltese hospital, the Cornella striker's thoughts moved from death to whether doctors could save his leg.

Eight months later De Kogel is walking with the aid of crutches after an intensive rehabilitation programme, but has been hit with tens of thousands of euros in legal costs following disputes over both his contract and compensation fees.

It has led to crowdfunding ventures, a charity match between Dutch clubs FC Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles that he formerly played for and the support of Ajax star Hakim Ziyech.

Malta, June 2018 - a summer holiday gone wrong

After three years with Go Ahead Eagles, a new challenge awaited De Kogel in Spain.

The forward joined third-tier side Cornella in January and felt at home on the outskirts of Barcelona, enjoying life with his new team-mates - albeit a modest one compared to the superstars across the city at the Nou Camp.

Come June it was time for a break and the 27-year-old headed to Malta with three friends, but it was a holiday that would dramatically change De Kogel's life.

Sitting in the passenger seat of a car, De Kogel says his driver took the wrong exit off a roundabout and collided with a vehicle coming the other way.

"My friend, who was behind me, came running and offered help," De Kogel told BBC Sport. "I remember saying goodbye to everybody because I felt that I was going to die - I was saying goodbye to my kids, to my loved ones.

"I was told not to look down... I did, and saw my knee next to my leg. It was totally broken and then I became unconscious. I felt like I was entering into a tunnel.

"It was very scary but it was also weird, because it was only later that I was aware what had happened. Of course, it's horrible to think you are going to die."

He woke in hospital to mixed news - he would never play professional football again, but doctors hoped he might one day be able to walk.

As his father and brother arrived from the Netherlands, surgeons began what De Kogel says has been "eight or nine" procedures since the accident.

"The doctors said he had been very lucky because in such actions normally the nerves are broken," explained his father.

"The most important thing was that they wanted to save his leg."

The long road to recovery

Leon de Kogel
De Kogel says he hopes to one day kick a ball with his two sons again

After four days in Malta, former club FC Utrecht arranged for De Kogel to be flown home and the footballer spent almost another six weeks in hospital.

A further six months at the MRC rehabilitation centre in Doorn in the Netherlands took its toll on his parents, who would drive their son to the hospital, spend four or five hours there and then drive him home.

"This was a very difficult period, of course - they had to stop working because it was a 24/7 task," said father-of-two De Kogel, who says his own sons have really helped him through the process.

De Kogel's father added: "In the beginning, after the accident, Leon couldn't do anything, we had to lift him, even if it was 3cm."

Now De Kogel is continuing his rehab with the Dutch Football Association, alongside other professionals recovering from long-term injuries.

"It's going well," he added. "My muscle strength increases and I feel motivated every day to work for it, but currently my knee won't get better than it is now.

"There is also a big worry for my upper leg bone because it didn't grow as it should have so we will have to see what will happen."

De Kogel will meet with doctors again on 8 March after being told he will potentially need a new, prosthetic knee, although they are keen to postpone this process with another operation.

"Such a knee only lasts 15 years and you can only have it twice, so they feel I am too young for that," he explained.

"My hope is now I will be able to walk without crutches. I want to be there for my two sons and my hope is just to play a little bit of football in the garden with them.

"Before I had very high ambitions, but I really lowered my ambitions and adjusted to the situation."

Netherlands rallies in support of De Kogel

Leon de Kogel
Former clubs FC Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles arranged a charity match for De Kogel earlier this month

Alongside trying to walk unaided, De Kogel has been fighting another battle.

Cornella stopped paying him directly after the accident and it took the intervention of the Dutch players' union - the VVCS - and the players' association in Spain to reach a settlement in December.

"The worst thing right now is the legal proceedings in Malta," said De Kogel, who claims the driver's insurance company did not contact him for "seven or eight months".

"I hoped they would answer quickly but I have had to hire a lawyer in Malta and also in the Netherlands to receive any reaction.

"Fortunately, last week I finally received some compensation. However, they still didn't recognise any liability.

"You don't want to occupy yourself with this as you are working very hard to get better. It is really a frustration that I have to wait for so long."

De Kogel has received support from his former clubs, as well as Ajax midfielder Ziyech and a crowdfunding scheme set up by a fan.

"A lot of people reacted very positively and this really did me good," said De Kogel, who says his costs so far number at least in the "tens of thousands of euros".

"Hakim Ziyech paid a reasonable amount of money, so that is great. But I have not come to the end of my costs right now."

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