Everton defender opens up about ACL surgery delays, staying mentally strong and how Jesse Lingard helped her recovery; watch the full interview with Gabby George on The Women’s Football Show on Sky Sports Football at 6pm on Friday
By Anton Toloui, Sky Sports News
Everton defender Gabby George admits the last 12 months have been the most challenging of her career but insists she is back “better and sharper” than ever before.
The England international ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee last February but had to wait four months for surgery due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was challenging, when I found out at first I broke down,” George told The Women’s Football Show.
“After a week or so it got easier but with Covid it’s been difficult getting the surgery and doing rehab but everything that’s happened has happened for a reason. It’s been 12 long months but I’ve found myself really. I’ve had time to reflect on myself, my game and come back stronger.
“The biggest challenge was not getting a date for the surgery, it was a tunnel with no ending. It was crazy. I had the knee injury but no one knew what was going on with the world. It was difficult but we were going through a global pandemic so I was just working at home trying to get as strong and fit as I could for when the surgery could take place.
“Some days were harder than others. I got to a stage where I had been doing rehab and smashing it for three months and I got to the last month, and I was pulling my hair out. There was nothing you could do, no matter how angry I was going to get was it going to make it go any quicker? So I just learned to deal with it rather than be fuming and upset about it.”
George returned to Everton’s Finch Farm base to resume training after her knee operation and was in the stands to see Everton’s run to the FA Cup final, culminating in a defeat to Manchester City in November.
“I had mixed emotions,” she added. “I was gutted for myself, but I knew how hard the girls had worked for that moment. I’d done my ACL in that competition, so it was a little more emotional.
“We said at the start of the season we were going to Wembley, and we did that. I read an interview with Izzy Christiansen, and she said they were going to do it for me, which was one of the most powerful things I read. It was hard, but I was really proud of the girls.”
George insists the injury has allowed her to focus on the mental side of the game, allowing her to “take the positive out of every negative” the game throws at you.
One source of encouragement for George was her cousin and fellow England player, Jesse Lingard, whose mix of shared experiences and family rivalry helped inspire her to come back stronger.
“He’s been really helpful, it helps having someone that’s been through what you have and played at a top level. He did his knee on one of his first United games, and he was like ‘I’ve done this. I’ve had my knee in a brace for six months, people can come back’.
“Through my rehab I kept sending him videos of me in the gym trying to beat his personal bests, and he was telling me ‘you’re not going to catch me’ and I was always like ‘just watch me’. We’re both positive, have a positive mindset and I do believe in the motto ‘the comeback is bigger than the setback’ and he believes that too.
“The resilience he’s shown has only pushed me on, and I think having someone like that to look up to is unbelievable. He’s had bad times in football, good times in football, but he’s always bounced back, and I now know nothing’s ever going to stop you bouncing back.”
George made her comeback 377 days after her injury when she came off the bench against Tottenham in the WSL last month. She made her first start in almost thirteen months during her side’s narrow defeat to Manchester City at the weekend.
“My first training session back I felt almost drunk, there was so much going on around you, and you feel like it’s an environment you haven’t been in before but when you get your first touch you think ‘it’s OK, I’ve done this a million times before’.
“When I started against City I forgot how you’re supposed to feel. I had butterflies and thought ‘I don’t know what to do anymore’. I had to ring my dad and he said ‘it’s just a game of football, Gabby’. It was surreal, my emotions were spinning around my head.”
Thanks to a lot of hard work, self-reflection and family support George is now back where she belongs. She admits her next battle is also a challenging one, establishing Everton as a top-four force in the WSL for years to come.
You can watch the full interview with Gabby George on The Women’s Football Show on Sky Sports Football at 6pm on Friday.