Nine months after saying early goodbyes thinking he would die after been involved in a car crash, 27 years old Dutch footballer Leon de Kogel is walking with the aid of crutches after an intensive rehabilitation programme, though he will never play football again, his wish is to get better and play a little bit of football in the garden with his sons.
One minute Leon de Kogel was living his childhood dream, starting at the youth team of FC Utrecht. He played senior football as a striker for FC Utrecht, VVV-Venlo, Almere City, After three years with Go Ahead Eagles, a new challenge awaited De Kogel in Spain.
The forward joined third-tier side Cornella in January 2018 and felt at home on the outskirts of Barcelona, enjoying life with his new team-mates. In June, six months after joining Cornella, it was time for a break and the 27-year-old headed to Malta with three friends, but that holiday changes De Kogel’s life.
Sitting in the passenger seat of a car, De Kogel says his driver took the wrong exit off a roundabout and collided with a vehicle coming the other way. Convinced he was dying, De Kogel began saying his goodbyes, “I remember saying goodbye to everybody because I felt that I was going to die – I was saying goodbye to my kids, to my loved ones” but waking up in the hospital, his thoughts moved from death to the possibility of his leg been saved by doctors. He underwent hours of surgery, and doctors doubted that he would ever walk again, let alone play football.
Four days after the accident his former club FC Utrecht paid for de Kogel to be flown back to the Netherlands, where he spent a further six weeks in the hospital.
A further six months at the MRC rehabilitation centre in Doorn in the Netherlands took its toll on his parents, who would drive their son to the hospital, spend four or five hours there and then drive him home.
De Kogel said “This was a very difficult period, of course – they had to stop working because it was a 24/7 task,” he says his own sons have really helped him through the process.
Following the accident, his Spanish club Cornellà stopped paying his salary, and insurance company of the taxi driver responsible for the accident did not make a payout. It led to crowdfunding ventures, a charity match between Dutch clubs FC Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles that he formerly played for. De Kogel has received support from his former clubs “A lot of people reacted very positively and this really did me good,” said De Kogel.
Nine months later De Kogel is walking with the aid of crutches after an intensive rehabilitation programme but has been hit with tens of thousands of euros in legal costs following disputes over both his contract and compensation fees.
De Kogel is continuing his rehab with the Dutch Football Association, alongside other professionals recovering from long-term injuries “It’s going well,” he added. “My muscle strength increases and I feel motivated every day to work for it…” But De Kogel would potentially need a new, prosthetic knee “Such a knee only lasts 15 years and you can only have it twice, so they feel I am too young for that,” he explained.
It took the intervention of the Dutch players’ union and the players’ association in Spain to reach a settlement with Cornella in December 2018, he said: “You don’t want to occupy yourself with this as you are working very hard to get better…”
Later that month he returned to football as a youth coach at SV Houten.
De Kogel being motivated, despite all the issues he has faced in months, has said “My hope is now I will be able to walk without crutches. I want to be there for my two sons and my hope is just to play a little bit of football in the garden with them. Before I had very high ambitions, but I really lowered my ambitions and adjusted to the situation.”