It was a scene you knew you wouldn't soon forget.
Stoke City's Britannia Stadium, February 27 2010. A bitingly cold English winter evening, the pitch slick with frost melted under the dancing tread of professional footballers.
Yet that chill you felt running down your back watching the match in the comfort of your home, or in the boisterous din of some bar thousands of miles away, wasn't due to the weather.
You had seen Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey (19-years-old at the time) crumple in a heap after a late challenge from Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross, who had bombed forward into the attacking third. It was a challenge he should never have made, and it happened like the crack of a whip.
You saw that horrible leg break—you forced yourself to look that once, and then you knew you'd never want to see it again.
His right leg's tibia and fibula snapped—fractured in a moment.
You witnessed his Arsenal teammates running, their hands over their faces, looking as if they'd just been to a funeral, and you thought the same thing—would Aaron Ramsey, the bright light of Welsh football, ever be the same again?
If you'd followed the English Premier League for the past several seasons, you'd have seen this before.
Fellow Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby's trademark languid stride broken by a rash challenge from Sunderland's Dan Smith, shattering the rangy Frenchman's ankle in 2006.
Just two years later, you might have witnessed Arsenal's promising 2007-08 season go up in smoke in that infamous match at Saint Andrews, where Eduardo saw his leg broken by Martin Taylor's crunching, scything and ill-timed lunge.
Seasons vanished in the blink of an eye. Those three players awoke from surgery the next morning faced with a thick stack of recovery-filled months before them. It would take a different level of resolve to get back on that pitch after something like that.
Fears had multiplied by the time of Ramsey's injury as Abou Diaby and Eduardo had both seen their once-promising careers derailed from those respective breaks.
Though both Diaby and Eduardo returned to top-flight football at the Emirates, each has dealt with a slew of niggling injuries that have sapped them of consistent appearances.
Diaby, impeccable in the center of the park and nearly impossible to win the ball off of when on form, struggles to remain fit. He's started 2011-12 in the infirmary.
Eduardo, who had taken the Premier League by storm in the half-season before his freakish accident, has since left Arsenal for Shakhtar Donetsk, those broken limbs making it impossible for him to regain a foothold in the Arsenal starting XI.
One wonders whether Spaniard Fernando Torres—himself the recipient of a number of injuries during his time in England—was correct in his assessment that he'd enjoy a longer playing career if he played in his native country.
Whether that's true or not is up for debate.
What's certain is that Eduardo, the Brazilian expatriate, seemed a shell of his former goal-scoring self upon his return to first-team football.
The man who had once seemed capable of scoring from everywhere—in any fashion—was reluctant to go full-tilt into 50-50 challenges, and looked a step slow in the final third. Where once you could have counted upon the nationalized Croatian to poke home a winner, he now seemed unsure whether to commit.
His career had been built upon a keen sense of finding the net. Now, it appeared certain he'd never rediscover that talent in England.
One wonders if a similar fate awaits Ramsey.
To his credit (and to Eduardo and Diaby's as well) he never once complained about his predicament, instead pushing himself to recover as quickly as possible.
He was back in training with Arsenal by the end of 2010 and, having completed a pair of loan spells with Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City (his former club before Arsenal), even scored the game-winning goal against Manchester United at the Emirates in April, 2011.
He has yet to succumb to the same nagging injuries that have plagued Diaby and Eduardo.
So, one wonders—why has the Welshman avoided the same fate as his colleagues?
Is his age the deciding factor in the matter? Ramsey was 19 at the time of his leg break. Eduardo's occurred mere days before his 25th birthday.
Yet Diaby was also 19 when he saw his ankle snapped like parched wood in an encampment of flame.
They say that after you sprain your ankle once, you're always at a higher risk of enduring a recurrence (trust me, I know from personal experience.)
Diaby's own case was far worse than a mere sprained ankle, but it begs the question—perhaps the French international suffered an injury in the worst possible location. Perhaps the ankle is the Achilles heel of footballers.
Eduardo and Ramsey both dealt with leg breaks, but the latter was a full five years younger than the man he called a teammate for two seasons (2008-2010.) The fountain of youth has saved many a career before, and perhaps it came to Ramsey's rescue.
One hopes that Ramsey will be able to enjoy what promises to be a spectacular career. Yet who knows whether one wrong twist of his right knee might unleash a chain reaction of pain, and send him spiraling on an endless road to recovery.
It's difficult to say why one player enjoys greater luck compared to two others, who have been forced to deal with the immense frustration provided by continual rehabilitation. Riding a stationary bike day-in, day-out can feel like a lifetime.
For now, Ramsey will be more preoccupied with finding playing time in an Arsenal midfield that has become very crowded by the signings of Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun.
In the best possible world, that will remain the extent of his worry.
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