15 top footballers who would have been even better without bad injuries

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What if? It’s a question that is regularly asked over a number of players in world football.

It’s a cruel game at the best of time, and consistent injuries make it all the more painful.

Whether you’re a fan desperate to see your team’s star player return from injury, or the player themselves, it’s never an easy time.

But it’s even harder when your career is largely remembered for the knocks you suffered, no matter how well you did when you were on the pitch.

Daily Star Sport have looked at 15 players who impressed, though may well have been even better if they managed to stay injury-free.

Jack Wilshere

Ankle injuries alone have cost former Arsenal star Wilshere at least 100 games across his career and if you add in other knocks and problems, you can double that tally.

To put that into comparison, he played 198 games for Arsenal during his career, but made a lasting impression.

He tormented Barcelona in the Champions League but has stuttered in recent years at Bournemouth and West Ham.

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Abou Diaby

Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira replacement, Diaby was hit by an injury following a challenge from Sunderland defender Dan Smith.

Diaby went on to miss plenty of matches due to 21 injuries during his 11 years at Arsenal and Marseille.

Indeed, in his last six seasons he featured in just 45 matches and spent 500 days out with an injury, eventually retiring in 2019 at the age of 32.

Ronaldo

Brazil legend Ronaldo netted 352 goals in 518 matches, and still we wonder if he could have done more were it not for injuries.

A seizure saw him struggle in the 1998 World Cup final though he had multiple other injuries during his career.

He admitted upon retiring: “Mentally I wanted to continue but I have to acknowledge that I lost to my body. The head wants to go on but the body can't take any more.”

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Micah Richards

Having “burst onto the scene” as a 17-year-old at Manchester City, Richards career went on to be ravaged by a persistent knee injury.

Still only 32 now, he was forced into retirement in 2019 having not made an appearance in the previous two seasons.

Had he not been hit by injuries, Richards would have potentially still been in the England set-up and not a TV studio.

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  • Andy Carroll

    He scored at Euro 2012 and also earned a £35m move to Liverpool during his career, though injuries have blighted Carroll's time.

    He seems to always be on the sidelines suffering multiple knocks and some bigger blows.

    Carroll is still at West Ham despite regularly missing time with the Hammers, including over 30 games from the summer of 2014 to September in the following year.

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    Robin van Persie

    An iconic Premier League striker, who impressed at both Arsenal and Manchester United, RVP still had his fair share of injuries.

    Once missed 33 Gunners games due to an ankle problem, while having numerous spells on the sidelines.

    He has one Premier League title to his name while at Old Trafford, but could he have helped Arsenal to success were it not for injuries?

    Daniel Sturridge

    When fit, he showed he was among England’s best and helped Liverpool to a Premier League title challenge alongside Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

    Though the striker has often been blighted by injuries, including missing 18 games for the Reds with a spell of 16 games on the sidelines just a few weeks later.

    Now 31, it seems Sturridge’s best days are behind him having been without a club since leaving Trabzonspor.

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    Michael Owen

    It may have all just peaked at 18 years of age for Owen, when he impressed at the 1998 World Cup.

    He did win the Ballon d’Or three years later, but the former Manchester United striker will always be remembered for his injuries.

    His knees were often at the heart of troubles, though his issues began when he tore his hamstring at just 19. That hindered his deadly pace and the rest is history.

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    Marco Reus

    Borussia Dortmund star Reus has been regularly linked with a move to the Premier League, though his injuries have proven to be a concern.

    He rupture his cruciate ligament in May 2017, keeping him out of the rest of that year having also been struck down in 2016.

    Currently on the sidelines with a bruised ankle, the forward’s injury history goes on for four pages on transfermarkt .

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    Gareth Bale

    Gareth Bale has hardly had the worst career, winning multiple Champions League crowns with Real Madrid.

    Though there is still a nagging feeling of ‘what if’ given the multiple injuries that the Welshman has suffered.

    His longest spell saw him miss 17 Real Madrid games in the 2016-17 season due to an ankle problem, but Bale hasn’t been able to put a long run of games together for some time.

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    Thomas Vermaelen

    There was a time when the Belgian was spoken about as among the world’s best defenders, though injuries meant Vermaelen could not sustain it.

    After impressing at Arsenal, he headed to Barcelona in a £15m deal though consistently struggled with injuries.

    During a season on loan at Roma, he managed just 600 minutes on the pitch and is now in Japan with Vissel Kobe.

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    Ledley King

    Ended his career after being only able to play once a week – not enough in English football anymore.

    He made just 21 England appearances though should have had more if it wasn’t for his consistent injury problems.

    Chronic knee issues derailed Tottenham icon King’s career, and he even went through stages where he wouldn’t train before Premier League matches.

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    Owen Hargreaves

    Having shone in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, and impressed in the England set-up, Hargreaves joined Manchester United in 2007.

    He helped the Red Devils to Champions League success but his time at Old Trafford was blighted by numerous knee problems.

    He retired at the age of 31 having also spent a year at Manchester City with fans left wondering what if.

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    Dean Ashton

    Former West Ham ace Ashton suffered his most severe injury while on England duty, and had to retire from football at just 26.

    He had impressed at both Norwich and Upton Park, scoring ten Premier League goals in the 2007-08 season.

    He would make just four more Premier League appearances before retiring, citing a long-term ankle problem.

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    Kieron Dyer

    Dyer managed 33 England appearances while also impressing at Newcastle and West Ham.

    Though he retired in 2013 at the age of 35 having made just 18 league appearances in the previous three seasons.

    But injuries left people wondering how much further he could have gone, having been part of the England squads which reached the quarter-finals at the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004.

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