Cruciate ligament injuries, ankle problems, ruptured tendons – Netherlands midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk has had them all, but insists that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
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Daniëlle van de Donk tells UEFA.com how she battled back from more than one serious injury. The Lyon midfielder is now fit and eager to showcase her talents for the Netherlands at the UEFA Women's EURO 2022.
You suffered a cruciate ligament injury as a teenager. How serious was it?
Your world just falls apart. It was my first year in the Women's Eredivisie. I played for Willem II. My knee just gave way. Nine months out is a long time, especially for a top athlete. Those months are just lost. It was a worst-case scenario at the time, although I also think it's the best thing that could have happened to me.
What do you mean by that?
I was only 16 I think, and not in as good a condition as I am now, which definitely played a role. I'd gone from playing twice or three times a week to playing almost every day, double practices, matches, travelling. It was very hard physically. I was still very young. But I'm glad that I was able to be positive about it and just think: this is the time to become fitter, and to come back stronger than ever. After that, I learned to train in a disciplined way.
And then, a couple of years ago, you injured your ankle...
I've always had a bit of a problem with my ankles, but I think that's common in football. Before the Olympics – the original Olympics, before they were cancelled due to COVID-19 – something weird happened [to my ankle] in the game against Canada during the Tournoi de France.
What was the problem?
No one really knew what it was, they couldn't find anything on the X-ray. I visited some specialists, but everything looked fine. I noticed, however, that my ankle was getting weaker and weaker, I didn't have as much muscle and power as before. But as long as no-one could find anything specific, I just keep playing! And this worked for a while, for about two years.
I ruptured my tendon, the one that runs from your shin to your foot and which lifts your foot, which I couldn't do any more. It's quite a rare injury. I'd never heard of it before. But in the end, it is just a tendon and, fortunately, there are many good doctors that know how to make it better. I'm happy with how they helped me. It was quite tough, but it's OK now.
And what about the timing? Wasn't there talk that you would maybe not make it to [UEFA Women's] EURO?
That was never said to me directly, and from the start my own mindset has been that I would give anything to make it. I was determined to play. And, of course, if you don't make it, it's a setback, but you need to set a goal and work towards it. This was my goal – and I made it.
So how's your fitness now? Are you match ready?
Yes! Before the season ended, I played 45 minutes with my club, and last week I played 90 minutes for the first time. In between I've played here and there but yes, I have played an entire match so I can say that I'm able to play 90 minutes again. The coach can no longer ignore me…