Two football stars are stabbed trying to tackle burglar

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The Independent Online

Two footballers, including a former England under-21 star, were stabbed when they disturbed a burglar.

A former Arsenal youth player, Andrew Douglas, was knifed in the chest when he and Paolo Vernazza, a Watford midfielder, surprised the burglar at Mr Vernazza's home in Islington, north London. Mr Douglas was in a critical condition in hospital last night and Mr Vernazza was discharged after treatment for a stab wound in his leg.

They tried to stop the burglar as he left the house at about 4am yesterday, but although they forced him to drop some stolen items, he escaped. Witnesses said a taxi driver also tried to stop the man.

The two footballers, both 21, trained together in Arsenal's youth team. Mr Douglas now plays for the non-league Grays Athletic in Essex while Mr Vernazza, who was capped for England in the under-18 and under-21 teams, moved to First Division Watford. He played for Portsmouth and Ipswich Town on loan before he was bought for an initial £350,000 by Watford, where he has become one of the fans' most rated players. A spokesman for Watford said he was likely to be out of action for about a month.

Scotland Yard said the burglar, who was in his 20s, dropped several items he had stolen, and his trainers came off, during the confrontation.

Detective Constable Jason Barber said the footballers arrived home in the early hours just as the burglar was leaving.

He said: "They confronted him and tried to detain him on the doorstep of the house while they called the police but he pulled out a knife and attacked them. Mr Douglas was in a critical condition but he has since received several blood transfusions and we are hopeful he will pull through."

Liam Brady, head of youth development at Arsenal, said: "I am shocked by this spineless attack and implore anyone who has any information to contact the police."