On Wednesday, at the age of 26, Portland Timbers midfielder Steve Zakuani announced his retirement from professional soccer on his website. Zakuani has been battling injuries since breaking his leg in 2011. He was never the same player after that injury and has spent the last four years trying to get his body right with little success.
It's worth reading Zakuani's full statement, but here's an excerpt.
To spend two full years out of the last three, on the treatment table rather than the pitch, has been the hardest thing I've had to face in my career. I've had to dig really deep mentally to stop myself from going into despair.
It's gotten to the point where I have to be honest with myself and listen to my body. I believe that because of my love for the game, if I had to, I could find the strength to play for a few more years, but I would be doing so through a lot of aches and pain - and in the grand scheme of things that isn't worth it to me. I love playing football but I don't want to compromise my long-term health for it. I never imagined that I would have to retire from football at the age of 26, but that's what it has come down to. When my career became more about the injections, MRI's, surgeries, doctors visits, painkillers, and limited physical capabilities, than the playing, enjoyment, love, and passion for the game, I knew it was time to call it a day.
The incident that ultimately ended Zakuani's career prematurely happened when he was playing for the Seattle Sounders. On April 22, 2011, Zakuani snapped both his tibia and fibula as a result of a tackle by then Colorado Rapids player Brian Mullan, who was suspended for 10 games because of the challenge. Zakuani didn't appear in another MLS game for 15 months, and played only eight times during the 2012 season. Between the compartment syndrome and nerve damage he suffered in conjunction with the leg break, along with a long layoff, Zakuani never achieved his pre-injury level of performance again.
Before his injury, Zakuani was the most promising young talent in Major League Soccer. He was coming off an 11-goal sophomore campaign for the Sounders and had been spectacular early in the 2011 season before suffering his injury. In the three seasons since, Zakuani has appeared in only 39 games, including 17 this season. He's scored only three goals in all competitions in those appearances.
Zakuani came to MLS as a huge prospect who had pace, some dribbling ability and a wicked left foot, but a lot of work to do to become a top player. He did that work absurdly fast, developing into one of the league's most intelligent, versatile and dangerous wingers by the time he was 22. While he might not have had a chance to reach his full potential, the level he did reach was a high one.
While Zakuani's injury and thoughts of what could have been will ultimately define his career for many people, what he accomplished is worth remembering too. Here, re-live it, or discover him for the first time: