Marco van Basten: Netherlands and AC Milan legend on injuries and Johan Cruyff

Former Netherlands striker Marco van Basten says he should have retired earlier and his career “was not worth” the pain he has suffered from his injuries.

Van Basten, 56, was one of the best players of his generation, winning the Ballon d’Or on three occasions between 1988 and 1992.

But he struggled with a persistent ankle injury from his early 20s and had to retire at the age of just 30.

“If I had the choice again with all the knowledge I have today, it’s not worth it,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro League’s podcast.

“All the pain I had, it was not worth it. My ankle created so many problems, it affected my day-to-day living. But at that time football was my whole life.

“Now I am older, I have had a life without football. You can still have a good life – there is more than football. Today I would make a different decision if I had the choice.”

‘I died as a footballer’

Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit
Van Basten won the 1989 and 1990 European Cups with Dutch team-mates Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit

Van Basten won back-to-back European Cups with the great AC Milan side of the late 1980s and scored his most famous goal in the Euro 88 final win over the Soviet Union.

But he missed two entire seasons trying to fight back from his ankle injury and now can not even kick a ball.

“I died as a player,” he said.

“Still today I can’t play football. It’s far too difficult, my ankle is fixed, I can’t shoot, I can’t do anything with my foot.

“In all my life there was not a day that I hadn’t touched a football and all of a sudden it was over. It was very hard, painful.”

‘Cruyff was my hero’

Van Basten first met his idol Johan Cruyff as a 15-year-old and wanted to tell him they would be team-mates one day – but lost his nerve.

Just a few months later, Van Basten replaced Cruyff as a substitute and scored on his Ajax debut.

“Cruyff was one of the best, he was my hero and my example,” Van Basten said.

“He was a star at the same time as George Best, fantastic to watch.

“I knew him later on, he became my trainer, my adviser, my team-mate, my opponent.

“It was easier for me to play with him than to speak to him.”

You can listen to the whole interview on BBC Radio 5 Live Sport Euro Leagues this evening at 20:00 GMT – and then download it on the 5 Live Football Daily podcast on BBC Sounds.