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‘Mentally, it’s the hardest thing’: Izzy Brown reflects on the long road to recovery from torn ACL

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The 21-year-old is hoping to be ready for the new season after suffering an ACL injury in January

Southend United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

One day after celebrating his 21st birthday, Izzy Brown’s heretofore perfect football world was shattered. Just six minutes into the FA Cup 3rd round tie between his loan club Brighton and fellow Premier League side Crystal Palace, he collided with Jeffrey Schlupp and just like that, his season was over. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee was torn. He had never suffered a major injury in his career before. Surgery and the long road to recovery beckoned.

Six months later, he’s at Cobham going through agility drills, working with the physios and the loan technical staff like Eddie Newton and Paulo Ferreira to make his return. He recently sat down with Chelsea TV for a lovely interview, which is available on the official website, and, if everything works correctly, embedded below. (You might have to login first at the official website, if you get an authorization error — or just click the link above.)

The whole thing is worth the 3-minute watch, but the part about the mental side of recovery is especially great, both in terms of general consideration, and as a sign of Brown’s maturity.

“It was hard to take, because I never had a major injury like that before and to know that I’ll be out for the rest of the season was heartbreaking.”

“It’s been tough. There are different days; ups and downs. One day you can feel amazing, and then the next day you have a slight bit of pain...”

“But mentally, it’s the hardest thing. Physically, you can always deal with it. But mentally, there’s days and there’s nights when you’re at home just watching football on the TV, just wishing that you could be playing. But you’ve got to keep strong because if it starts to melt away in your head, you’re going to start not healing as quick as possible.

“It’s good to take your mind off of it. I’ve been reading different books and trying to learn different things. Eddie would always come and see me, speak to me, spend ten minutes with me, same as Paulo. They would always come and talk, help me think positive, and saying ‘you’ll be back soon’. Paulo had the same injury as me so he’s been speaking to me quite a bit.”

As we know and as Brown also tells it, the physical side of the recovery process is supported by the world class facilities and staff at Cobham. But the mental side can often be overlooked, and it’s great to hear Chelsea taking care of him in that aspect as well.

Brown made headlines back in 2013 when he became the second youngest ever player to play in the Premier League, then made headlines again when he switched to Chelsea a few months later. At West Brom, he was within sniffing distance of first-team Premier League football at 16. At Chelsea, he would be just another hot prospect, excelling at youth level but only hoping to make the big jump to first-team level.

Sure enough, he won just about everything he could with the U18s and U21s, including a couple FA Youth Cups and the 2014-15 UEFA Youth League. At the end of that season he even made his Chelsea debut — 11 minutes against his old club, ironically — which then led to the usual spate of loans. He was okay at Vitesse, but really stepped it up two years ago, first at struggling Rotherham in the Championship, then at Huddersfield Town as they pushed for their historic promotion to the Premier League.

Brown, too, would play top tier football the following season, with Brighton, for whom he made 13 league appearances (4 starts) before the injury struck. Which leads us back to the present.

So what’s next for the 21-year-old?

“Last season was amazing for me. I was only 20-21 and playing in the Premier League, coming off the bench and starting some games. That’s what I want to be doing, week in, week out ... and that’s been in the back of my mind, I want to get back to doing that next season. So I’ll have to keep working hard and push myself harder and harder every day, and hopefully I’ll be there next season.”

-Izzy Brown; source: Chelsea TV

Full recovery is usually not expected for 9-12 months in most ACL cases, and in some, like Baba Rahman’s injury 18 months ago, can last well beyond that timeframe. But while these injuries used to be career-ending, now they can be overcome. Paulo has done it, like Izzy says. Azpilicueta, too. Just to name a couple. It takes physical and mental fortitude, but it sounds like Izzy’s got both in spades.

Hopefully he can indeed make it back to playing this season and perhaps join a club on loan to help finish out his recovery with regular playing time.