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09 December 2023

Forgiven, but not forgotten

Eduardo never watched the replays of the incident (AP)

By John McAuley

The image of Eduardo da Silva clutching his left ankle on the wet St Andrews turf last February is one that's not easy to shake.

The Arsenal forward, starting his 22nd game of the season, lasted only three minutes as a shuddering lunge from Martin Taylor, the brawny Birmingham defender, caused one of the most horrific injuries ever witnessed in the Premier League.

A fractured fibula and an open dislocation of the ankle was too much for Cesc Fabregas, Eduardo's team-mate and closest to the incident, to comprehend. The young Spaniard threw up his hands to shield his eyes, while physio Gary Lewis rushed to the scene.

The treatment lasted seven minutes onfield, with the young Croatian requiring an oxygen mask as he lay motionless on the pitch. He was stretchered off past Arsene Wenger, and the manager's concern seemed to transfer to the pitch.

Referee Mike Riley did not hesitate in giving Taylor a straight red card, but Arsenal couldn't regroup and refocus – thoughts were with their embattled striker. Another 25 minutes passed before the next notable incident, James McFadden scoring against his unsettled opponents from a 20-yard free-kick. The match finished 2-2 thanks to a last-minute penalty, yet it was Eduardo who made the headlines.

While it could be argued that Arsenal never recovered from the loss of Eduardo – the then-league leaders did not muster another Premier win for more than a month and saw their title challenge fade – the Brazilian-born hitman's return to action has been more enduring.

Two operations were performed in a Birmingham hospital that night, less than two days before his 25th birthday, and an intensive eight-hour daily rehabilitation programme followed.

Details of his injury and the corrective surgery undertaken have even been requested by doctors and passed on to universities to inform their medical students.

Understandably, there were fears for Eduardo's career. Fellow professionals and ex-players, including Robbie Savage, Alan Smith and David Busst – all of whom suffered sickening injuries themselves – were quick to offer their support to allay anxieties.

Taylor issued a public apology and contacted the Arsenal man at various stages during his time on the sidelines. The latest reportedly came in December, when Eduardo made his much-awaited return to action in a reserve game against Portsmouth.

He has since completed his first full game, another reserve fixture, and said after the 2-2 draw at Stoke that "every game is a big step" as he bids to get back to the sort of form that made him one of the most feared strikers in Europe.

He may have missed last summer's European Championship, but he was not far from Croat minds. Banners were hung from the stands in respect to the 10 goals he scored in 12 qualifying games that helped secure his adopted country's place at the tournament.

Now, fully recovered from the break, but nursing a hamstring strain, Eduardo waits to make his Premier League comeback in the weeks ahead. The Gunners, currently outside the Champions League places, need their No9 back as quickly as possible.

Eduardo has never watched replays of the incident, but it is still just as vivid to those that saw from the stands or on television. He will want to prove that he, at least, has forgotten about the harrowing events last February and fire Arsenal back into title contention.

Big breaks

Djibril Cisse

Cisse caught his boots in turf at Ewood Park as Liverpool played Blackburn in 2004. Despite fracturing his tibia, he was back in three months.

Alan Smith

Man Utd midfielder broke his leg after landing awkwardly. Sir Alex Ferguson said it was the worst he'd ever seen. It took Smith 11 months to return.

Henrik Larsson

Celtic striker broke his left leg in two places against Lyon in the Champions League. The Swede returned eight months later and won the Golden Boot.

Patrick Battiston

Frenchman collided with German goalkeeper in a horrendous challenge. Lost teeth, broke his jaw and slipped into a coma with damaged vertebrae. Returned in six months.

David Busst

The Coventry man suffered multiple fractures to leg after Roy Keane's slide tackle. BBC refused to replay it, United players needed counselling and Busst never returned.