Revered as the “Ronaldo of knees,” pioneering Portuguese surgeon Jose Carlos Noronha is saving the careers of top soccer players who feel the dreaded, career-threatening crack of a torn ligament.
A tear of the anterior cruciate ligament — one of the main stabilizers at the center of the knee joint — is a potential career-killer and one of the most feared injuries among soccer players.
Given the gravity of the injury, Noronha was credited in the world’s sporting press with performing a “miracle cure” when he operated on Real Madrid’s Pepe in December 2009 and the Portugal international recovered in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Now, Colombia’s Radamel Falcao is hoping for his own miracle after going under Noronha’s knife for the same injury on Jan. 22, less than five months before the start of the 20th World Cup in Brazil.
Noronha is one of the world’s foremost practitioners of a new “keyhole” surgical repair that allows players to get back to fitness more quickly. He does about 100 of the operations a year, working every Monday in the private Trindade Hospital in Porto, Portugal.
On Monday, he operated on a young amateur soccer player who got injured over the weekend.
After adjusting his mask over his mouth and nose, the surgeon calmly cut into the knee of his patient. Each surgical movement within the joint was relayed to a monitor as with small, precise movements, Noronha removed a section of the patellar tendon, which lies over the knee cap, and used it as a graft to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in an operation lasting barely 30 minutes.
“I think the secret of a quick recovery is in the placing of the graft,” he said. “It needs to be fixed at the base of the torn ligament.”
It is the same technique he used on AS Monaco striker Falcao when the 28-year-old ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee playing a Coupe de France match against Monts d’Or Azergues Foot in January.
Noronha’s fame first began to spread after he operated on Cesar Peixoto, a veteran Portuguese international who ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in 2003.
“Without him, I would certainly have had to stop playing a long time ago,” Peixoto said. “It’s not for nothing that they call him the Messi or the Ronaldo of knees.”
The injury is a traumatic event for a professional player and Peixoto said he would “never forget the day it happened to me.”
“It was in Marseille in 2003, during a Champions League match with my club at the time, FC Porto. Just after the 60th minute, I felt a crack,” Peixoto said.
He had to be rushed off the pitch and after a quick examination, it was obvious that he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and required urgent surgery.
“Ten years ago, it [the injury] would very often have meant the end of a career,” said the midfielder, who plays for Primeira Liga side Gil Vicente.
Peixoto’s doctors called Noronha, who at that time was not treating famous players, and six months later, he could play again.
Noronha now works with Porto and management agency GestiFute, and despite his success, plays down his renown, saying: “It’s just the fact of working in the world of football, that has brought me a certain fame.”