Stoke City star Peter Odemwingie admits his world turned upside down when he suffered the injury that all professional footballers dread just two weeks into the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign.
The Nigerian international, who starred at last summer’s World Cup Finals in Brazil, was hoping to further endear himself to the Stoke City supporters in his first full season with the Club after making a major impact at the Britannia Stadium following his switch from Cardiff in January.
Netting five goals in his first 15 games for the Potters, the 33-year-old played a pivotal role in helping the side secure a landmark ninth place finish in the Premier league at the end of the 2013/14 season, and harboured hopes of playing an equally as prominent part in the current campaign…
First of all Peter, I’m sure all your supporters have been eagerly awaiting for an update on your situation, so could you just shed some lights as to where you are up to in terms of your rehabilitation?
I have just started running outside which is a massive step for me. From now onwards hopefully things will accelerate a little bit for me and I can start looking forward rather than behind me. In terms of the minimum period I was told I would be out for, I am just over half way through that now. I won’t say the last three months have flown by, but sitting here now talking about it I guess it has gone pretty quickly. I am getting closer and closer to returning and that is all I am thinking about for now – that is getting me through it. I have been inside doing a lot of rehab watching the lads training through the windows, and that has helped too, because before that, I was spending more time away from the training ground so I wasn’t part of the group. Thankfully, I am back in and around the players now and just being there with them has given me even more drive to keep working hard and make sure I come back from this injury stronger.”
Does that keep you motivated, looking outside and seeing the lads out on the training pitch?
Very much so. Sometimes I just stop what I am doing and look at what they are doing and think that will soon be me again. Mentally, it does help. In the first few weeks after the operation, I felt a world away from being out there with them, kicking the ball and running around the pitch, but now it doesn’t seem too far away. Of course, there are plenty of difficult weeks ahead, but I am in a good frame of mind and I am ready to come through these coming weeks and months and make sure I am back to full health. There is plenty of motivation side me, I am in good hands with the staff here, and I am often speaking to players who have had the same injury and have returned to play at the highest level. That encourages me.”
In terms of the timing of the injury Peter, not that there is ever a good time, but given the fact that you had made such an impact in your first six months at the Club, to suffer this blow right at the start of your first full season, that must have been difficult to accept?
Of course! It was very hard to take. After what had happened last year, in terms of playing well, scoring goals and helping the Club to break records, and then going to the World Cup and scoring there, this was a massive setback for me. I really had so much confidence in the summer and genuinely thought that this could be my best season in the Premier League. I am here at a club where I feel loved, I had been playing well and we have a great team – I really had massive expectations for myself. In football though, you can never take anything for granted – because things can change in an instant, just as they did for me. What is important though is how you respond to these setbacks. You have to focus, keep your mind right and then go again. I am doing all of that at the moment and am hoping that I can come back in 2015 and catch the end of the season. That is my goal.”
What is the biggest challenge to you – is it trying to get back physically, or is it making sure that you remain mentally switched on? I imagine it is a very difficult situation to be in when you have a six-month spell in front of you where you are just working towards getting back to fitness?
For me, it is getting back physically, because thankfully I am in a good place now mentally. Everybody is different and people deal with these sorts of problems differently. My surgery was done by a doctor with many years of experience, and the follow up meetings with him have been very good. He is pleased with the progress I am making. I did a little bit of research myself, looking at other players who have had these injuries and what the best things to be doing are. Of course, you see one or two things that worry you, but I have been reassured that I am progressing well, and because of that I am mentally ok. It is just more about making sure I keep building myself up now, strengthening my muscles again and doing all the right work for my knee. That is the only worry I have. I just want to make sure that I come back from this strong.”
You previously mentioned that your target is to return before the end of the season, but I suppose if you have to bide your time and write off this season to ensure you don’t return prematurely, then you are happy to do that?
Certainly. It is imperative that I am 100 percent ready when I come back. Eddie Niedzwiecki, one of the first team coaches here, had a similar injury during his career and he has told me the biggest regret he has was trying to come back from it too quickly. He regrets that, even now. I will just do everything I am told, and I am sure that I will know when the time is right for me to come back. I will feel it in my body. The minimum period as I said before was six months, but it could be nine months. It all depends upon the individual and the work that you do. Marc Muniesa did the same thing when he was at Barcelona and he worked hard and came back within six months – I want to do exactly the same. I know that I will have to be right though, because if I’m not, then it will be difficult to get into the team. There are a lot of good players here now, and as we have seen this season, even when players are fully fit they are still struggling to get regular game time. I have to come back fully fit and then play to the best of my ability in training to get back on to the pitch on a match day.”
One possible positive at this time of year is that you get to spend a bit more time at home with the family than you would under normal circumstances, but I’m sure you would willingly sacrifice that if it meant playing football again, wouldn’t you?
Absolutely! When you find yourself in this situation then you have to try and look at the good things that come from it, and one of them is that I get to spend more time with my wife and my two little boys at home. But they would prefer to see me play football than have me sat at home with them. My two-year old loves being at the Britannia Stadium, as does my wife, and they are missing that. Of course, everybody knows how much I miss the game too, and because of that they wish I was fit and healthy and playing for Stoke City in these matches over Christmas. I don’t have so many years left in the game so being on the pitch would be the best present I could have had for Christmas. Sadly, that isn’t possible, so I will just keep doing everything I can to get back as soon as possible.”
How have you adjusted to being a supporter of the team, rather than a player over the past three months? Have you found that difficult?
I’m a good supporter, but in the first few months I tried to keep a bit of a distance, because they were hard times for me. If I came and watched the lads then it would have had a negative effect on my mind-set, so we thought it was best to keep away. I didn’t want to feel any worse than I already was and being at the stadium wouldn’t have helped me, even though I did want to support my team-mates. Now that I feel a bit closer to the team though, being in and around them on a daily basis, then I am sure I will begin to come to the games more and give them my support from the stand. If the month of March is to be the time when I start training fully again, then now will be a good time to start tuning myself into game mode and preparing my mind as well.”
Finally, Peter, I’m fairly certain I know what your answer is going to be to this, but what is your Christmas and New Year wish?
I want to get back playing football and scoring goals. That is what I do best and I miss that feeling massively. Right now, after my injury, I guess I have changed my mentality and become even more professional than before. I have started to think about the little details that I never would have thought about previously, and I am starting to appreciate my success in the game more now. When you go through something like this, it strengthens you up mentally, and hopefully when I do return, that will help me to come back as a better player than I was before. I will certainly put the work and effort into coming back and helping this fantastic Club to keep moving forward.”