While we usually associate professional footballers with peak physical fitness, as well as soapstar girlfriends and questionable taste in music, in truth some battle serious injury, illness and other health issues throughout their careers, which only makes their achievements that much more impressive.
Here’s a brief rundown of several familiar names who have not only coped with physical or mental issues, but conquered them to reach the upper echelons of football.
In a playing career that spanned some thirty years, Marsh also accumulated nine caps for England, and drew comparisons with George Best for his abilities on the pitch. While many hearing problems occur naturally, for Rodney it was a collision with another player in 1963 that resulted in a career-threatening injury, which caused loss of balance and total deafness in one ear. But he went on to enjoy many more years as a star of the 'Beautiful Game'. Although hearing difficulties obviously present a challenge in noisy stadiums, there are several semi-professional footballers playing today who don’t let it inhibit them.
With his dreadlocks and protective eye-mask, Davids was easy for commentators to pick out during his days at Tottenham Hotspur. Those distinctive goggles weren’t about style though, but because he suffered from glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that can cause painful pressure and even a loss of vision. Far from allowing that to defeat him however, Davids represented the Netherlands over 70 times in an immensely successful career, including spells at Ajax, Milan and Juventus.
Carlisle played in defence for Burnley during their brief spell in the Premier League during the 2009-2010 season. After a serious injury early in his career that nearly brought his footballing days to a premature end, he battled depression for years, even contemplating suicide at times. Now retired, he works at bringing awareness to mental health issues in football, problems that are often stimulated by players facing extreme pressure. Ex-Kilmarnock forward David Cox has also come forward about his own demons recently, and Paul Gascoigne's ongoing struggles have of course been well-documented.
The Newcastle winger is one of several professional footballers who have happily survived testicular cancer (he announced he’d received the all-clear in 2014) and gone on to resume their careers, including Alan Stubbs of Everton and Chelsea, and ex-Tottenham defender Jason Cundy.
Fletcher, a big name for Manchester United and Scotland, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating inflammatory bowel condition. At first he tried to hide it from his teammates out of embarrassment, but when he eventually revealed his illness, Fletcher found that he became an inspiration for fellow-sufferers.
Often considered Australia’s greatest footballer, and according to his wife the proud owner of a 'peachy bum', Kewell had an unfortunately injury-prone career, and during the 2006 World Cup he was ruled out of contention for septic arthritis, a potentially very serious condition. He managed to resume his international footballing career a year later however.
Manchester City’s Jesus Navas has had something of a chequered career. The Spanish star was supposed to have joined Chelsea all the way back in 2006, but he was prevented from doing so by an unusual affliction - a serious case of homesickness. The anxiety was so severe that Navas also faced problems with his international ambitions. Hopefully he’s shaken it off now, because if anything is going to make you miss the sunny climes of Spain, it’s a drizzly spell in Manchester.
Another Premier League player who had an interesting anxiety-related health issue was of course, 'The Non-Flying Dutchman', Dennis Bergkamp of Arsenal, one of the club’s greatest ever players despite his refusal to ever get on a plane for international fixtures.