Virgil van Dijk: Six players who returned from ACL injuries

By Ciaran VarleyBBC Sport
Jordan Pickford recklessly challenges Virgil Van Dijk during the Merseyside derby
Van Dijk may miss the rest of the season after this challenge by Jordan Pickford

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk faces a long recovery after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury against Everton on Saturday.

However, some hope could be offered to the Dutchman by the examples of these players who all returned from long absences with similar injuries.

1. Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer celebrates after Blackburn Rovers clinch the Premier League title, 1995
An ACL injury early on in Shearer's career didn't stop him becoming one of the greats

Alan Shearer is probably the best example of overcoming serious ACL injury and going on to greatness.

During his maiden season with Blackburn Rovers, in 1992, he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Shearer returned the following season and scored 31 goals. The next season, he bettered that, with 34 goals to help Blackburn win the Premier League.

His tally of 260 goals makes him the top scorer in Premier League history.

2. Ruud van Nistelrooy

Ruud van Nistelrooy of Manchester United celebrates with Kleberson after scoring during the FA Premiership match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on December 13, 2003
Van was the man at United

Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was all set to become Manchester United's most expensive ever signing in 2000 when he sustained an injury for PSV Eindhoven and failed his medical.

Soon afterwards, in training, he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.

After nine months out, he got his move a year later.

Van Nistelrooy went on to score 150 goals in 219 games for Manchester United, winning the Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup with the club, as well as going on to win La Liga twice with Real Madrid.

3. Xavi

Xavi celebrates after scoring against Espanyol during a Supercup, 2nd leg, match at the Camp Nou stadium on August 20, 2006
Mr Barcelona himself

Xavi is one of Barcelona's most important ever players and holds the club's appearances record.

In December 2005, an ACL injury left him needing surgery and facing being left out of the Spain squad for the Germany World Cup the following year.

After just five months out, he returned swiftly to help Barcelona lift the La Liga title and also travelled to Germany with Spain that summer.

Oh, and he went on to rack up five more La Liga titles, four Champions League trophies, two European Championships and one World Cup.

4. Robert Pires

Robert Pires of Arsenal lifts the Premier League Trophy as his team mates kneel before him, May 2002
A visual representation of how important Pires was to Arsenal's 2001-02 season

At the end of a 2001-02 Premier League title-winning campaign, Robert Pires was named the Football Writers' player of the year, despite his season being abruptly ended in March because of an ACL injury.

He was out for more than six months and missed the 2002 World Cup that year (where France were dumped out in the group stages).

His absence was felt the following season, as Arsenal relinquished the league title to Manchester United. However, he did regain fitness and form, helping Arsenal to take back the Premier League title in the 2003-04 season, scoring 19 goals that campaign.

5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates a goal for Manchester United
Zlatan saying bring it on

In April 2017, then 35-year-old Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered cruciate knee-ligament damage in the final minute of normal time during a Europa League quarter-final second-leg win over Anderlecht.

He was expected to be out for a full year and there were fears that that was his career over, but he actually returned after seven months.

In typical style, Zlatan said: "Lions don't recover like humans."

At the age of 39, he's still going strong. He scored 11 goals in 20 appearances for AC Milan last season and is currently Serie A's top scorer this term.

6. Roy Keane

Roy Keane of Manchester United shouts at Alf Inge Haaland of Manchester City following his red card during the Manchester derby, 2001
Roy Keane shouts at Haaland after fouling him

This one is probably the most ugly and controversial example in the list. In September 1997, as Manchester United faced bitter rivals Leeds United, captain Roy Keane clashed with Norwegian defender Alf-Inge Haaland throughout.

Towards the end of the game, Keane tried to trip his opponent, but his studs caught in the turf and he ended up tearing his cruciate ligament.

It took until the following campaign for Keane to return and it was quite a return too - Manchester United won a famous treble that year.

The story didn't quite end there though. In 2001, Keane met Haaland again during the Manchester derby and committed a horror foul that Haaland has suggested ended his career.

In Keane's autobiography, he suggests that it was revenge: "I'd waited long enough. I hit him hard."

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