There are certain people you meet in life, who have stories and have gone through experiences that can instantly alter the way you view the world, yourself, and the struggles you deal with. Australian-born Malaysian footballer, Brendan Gan is a perfect, perfect example.
There aren’t pinches of salt in my statement, nor is there a twist of exaggeration either. The story of Brendan, quite simply, is one filled with struggle, pain, disappointment, but also determination, willpower, mental fortitude and the most fundamental aspect of the human experience – hope.
This is a man who battled back-to-back Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries in circumstances that were hardly ideal, with little to almost no support from his employers, and in a country he was only slowly starting to call home. While the football merry-go-round in Malaysia kept going, the ex-Sydney FC man was left to fight incredible battles on his own in Australia, with his family, friends and fiancee being the only form of support, both financially and emotionally.
The first ACL tear happened on his right knee during the first match of the 2015 Malaysia Super League season. Ex-Middlesbrough star, George Boateng was the Kelantan head coach at that point, and Brendan was on the verge of fully stamping his name on the Malaysian stage, having made a strong impression after joining Kelantan as a naturalised Malaysian player, midway through the 2014 season. But he didn’t even make it past the first game of the season. Midway through their season opener against ATM, Brendan tore the ACL on his right knee.
He spent the rest of the year back in Australia, recovering and undergoing rehab by himself, with supervision from a trusted medical team. In January 2016, he was back in Kota Bharu again, raring to put the previous year behind and go at it with Kelantan. But less than seven months later, Brendan picked up another ACL tear, this time around on his left knee. The physical pain was unbearable, as anyone who has gone through an ACL injury would tell you. But the mental struggle almost drove him crazy.
“It was the hardest time in my life. Going through a second ACL injury is difficult, because you know the process already. The first time, it was exciting, it was an adventure and everything was new to me. But the second time? It was boring, tedious and the mental side of things started getting to me. Prior to going through my first ACL injury, whenever I heard ‘an athlete has ruptured their ACL’ , it wouldn’t really leave an impact on me because I never realised how much work had to be done to get back from such an injury. What slowly dawned upon me was how valuable mental strength becomes, in dealing with an ACL injury. It’s wasn’t easy for me at all,” Brendan told Football Tribe Malaysia.
The second injury happened while Brendan was with the Malaysian national team. Having played in virtually every single Kelantan game that season, Brendan travelled to Jakarta with the national team in September 2016. His legs needed a break but the stakes were too high for Brendan to not play – it was Indonesia’s first official football match after the lift of a FIFA sanction, and the Gelora Bung Karno was absolutely rocking that night. At the request of head coach, Datuk Ong Kim Swee, Brendan agreed to play, not knowing that he was about to dive into abyss for the second time in his career.
14 minutes into the game, he was down on the pitch, signalling to be substituted. There was a sense of familiarity about the injury and Brendan knew what had happened. The next day, he flew back to Kuala Lumpur and was immediately sent to get the relevant medical tests done and it wasn’t a surprise when the results came out. Barely months before the AFF Suzuki Cup, Brendan had torn the ACL on his left knee. Having spent the first half of the season proving his mettle in the Malaysia Super League and establishing himself as arguably the best defensive midfielder in the country, he was robbed of the opportunity to carry that form and momentum into the biggest football tournament in Southeast Asia, for the first time in his career.