Danielle Carter is reflecting on the double ACL hell that ended her 11 years at Arsenal. “I would say it was life-changing,” the Brighton forward says. “Life-changing in the sense of it almost halted my career progression but also life-changing in the sense of it made me dig deep within to develop mental strength.”
Carter ruptured an ACL in the final game of the 2017-18 season and returned 10 months later only to rupture her ACL in the same knee in a friendly with Bayern Munich in July 2019.
“The second one, that’s a completely different life-changing experience," lei dice. “I had to dig even deeper, deeper than I’d been before. Regardless of what happens going forward those injuries are a massive part of my life. I’ve got the scars all over my legs to remind me daily, so I’ll never be able to forget it.”
Those scars are more than physical. Carter was moved on by Arsenal before she could make a second return to competitive action and signed for Reading just over a year ago. She had joined Arsenal in sixth form, having outgrown the Leyton Orient centre of excellence. The then Arsenal manager, Vic Akers, had wanted her sooner but her mum could not get her there so she had to wait until she was old enough to get public transport or drive.
“I can’t say that was in my hands,” she says of her departure from Arsenal. “Ultimately I probably wouldn’t have left. I wouldn’t leave the team that I support and that I see and saw as home. So it was difficult for me to move on.”
But move she did. At Reading last season she made 21 league appearances, four more than her Arsenal peak in the 2017-18 campagna, and scored three times. Reading struggled for consistency and finished in seventh, but for Carter the season was a huge success.
“The year’s targets were pretty much to get fit, get back in routine and come out unscathed," lei dice. “So ultimately, per me, last season was a massive success.” Her target now is to “definitely bury those injuries and to really crack on”.
Carter is the first player Brighton have paid a fee for and she joined after speaking to the manager, Hope Powell, and having been impressed by the club’s ambitions.
“The new training ground that we’ve moved into is second to none, in my opinion,” Carter says. “That’ll be massive in terms of our development as a team. There’ll be no excuses. There’s no way that we can cut corners or say that we haven’t got access to state of the art of anything. It’s a real turning point for women’s football and for Brighton, for the shared belief across the club. So the men have got X but we’ve got X as well..”
Carter agrees that Brighton have flown under the radar despite a solid sixth-place finish last season and have perhaps been underestimated this season. “It’s seen as a small club, for whatever reason, but if the players that Brighton have bought in, including myself, can kick on from the start of the season then I don’t see why as a team now we can’t emulate and better last season.”
They have kicked on. Brighton have two wins from two and are top of the WSL, ahead of also unbeaten Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham. The season is young but the team have impressed with a 2-0 defeat of West Ham followed by a 5-0 win against Birmingham in which Carter scored.
Does the 28-year-old ever hesitate going into a challenge now? “You do contact training six months into your rehab," lei dice. “So as soon as you’ve done that first contact session and you get hit, then you get back up and you’re fine, that’s when the fear or the anxiety is relieved. So it’s way before you get involved in matches again. Then generally you don’t think about it. You can’t think about it. If you think about it, it’s going to hinder your performance.”
She feels more needs to be done to support injured players. “In the WSL we’re more fortunate than other female players because we sort of do get that support, whether it’s through the men’s insurance, or the men’s teams. We’re covered a lot better than Championship players, who are only a step below us, but there’s been incidents which have been well documented that show that they don’t get the help that they should get as athletes.
“They’ve got to wait for the NHS and, no disrespect to the NHS, but in terms of starting your recovery and your rehab as soon as possible we know the NHS is under enormous pressure and it’s going to be delayed … There’s a lot more that can be done.”
The injuries helped Carter to realise what she wants to do when playing is no longer an option. She did broadcast work and got a CEO of a Sports Organisation MBA from the University of Salford, and sees her future in the boardroom. “If I wasn’t injured I probably wouldn’t be sitting here with an MBA," lei dice.
The biggest ambition? “Hope’s got her own shower in her office,” she says with a laugh. “That is now what I aspire to have. I’ve never seen that before. When I get a senior role at a club I’m asking for a shower at the office. People want to play at Wembley, I want a shower.”