A LEEDS goalkeeper has revealed he thought he was “going to die” in his terrifying car crash that broke his neck.
Dani van den Heuvel was in the back of the vehicle that smashed into a pole at high speed in the summer.
The shot-stopper, who joined the Whites from Ajax in 2020, was on international duty with Holland Under-19s at the time of the incident.
The 19-year-old suffered a broken neck and jaw but is now back in training with his club side Leeds.
Manager Jesse Marsch revealed he had been involved in an incident just before the new season.
But Van den Heuvel – who made his return to action in an U21s friendly with Valencia last week with the Premier League returning after Christmas – initially kept the accident and his recovery private, staying off Instagram.
However, he now feels ready to open up and told the Daily Mail: “It was a bad, bad crash.
“There was one staff member and three other players in the car. We were driving on the main road and someone tried to cross the road from a side road.
“We had to avoid him, so our driver steered right. We drove into a traffic pole.
“I was unlucky that I was in the middle backseat so I was the only one who didn’t get an airbag. I was the worst injured.
“I was unconscious. After the impact, I can’t remember anything. I woke up in the car. The car was smoking, beeping.
“There was glass everywhere. I remember my jaw was really painful, my neck just felt really stiff. It was scary.
“Did I worry for my life? Yes, definitely.
“That quick moment when everything goes dark, when I think back about it, it is just like an empty space. It was a terrifying experience.
“I was in the hospital for a couple of days and had to get surgery on my jaw.
“The first week was really scary. I was really emotional. It did a lot of damage. It was mentally really tough.
“You’re scared of what might happen when you first hear about some fractures in your neck. The first thing you think about is being paralysed.
“But after they said you’ve got zero per cent chance of getting paralysed, that’s the moment your mentality switches.”
When something like this happens, you appreciate it more – not just football, but everything
Dani van den Heuvel
Van den Heuvel had visits from team-mates and messages of support from Leeds as he went through the long process of getting back to full strength.
And now he is rebuilding his confidence on and off the pitch.
He added: “I like to speak about it because it helps me. I am not afraid in the car now but I am a bit more careful.
“I am a bit more aware of the traffic around me. You trust people less around you because it wasn’t our fault.
“When I first arrived in hospital on the day the accident happened, they said I would probably be able to go on the pitch after six months.
“But now I’ve played my first game again after six months, so that’s an achievement I’m really happy with.
“It was amazing to stand back on the pitch – that feeling, the good nerves you get before a game. As soon as you get on the pitch, you don’t think about anything else.
“Obviously, the first couple of times I went back out on the pitch, my neck still felt a bit stiff. But it doesn’t change anything, I am still doing the things I used to do.
“When something like this happens, you start realising how grateful you need to be for everything. You appreciate it more – not just football, but everything.”