Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan is afraid he will never regain his best form following his latest injury nightmare.
The Germany international made his first appearance of the season as a second-half substitute in the 6-0 win at Watford last Saturday and is in line to start Wednesday's EFL Cup match against West Brom.
It was Gundogan's first game since he suffered cruciate ligament damage last December, an injury that struck following a strong start to his City career following his move from Borussia Dortmund.
The 26-year-old missed the majority of the 2013-14 campaign with a back injury that kept him out of Germany's triumphant World Cup campaign, and knee damage picked up in Dortmund training in May last year saw him miss Euro 2016.
Gundogan admits there is a heavy psychological toll from such long-term problems and concedes he is not the same player he was prior to December 14 last year.
"It was a long wait – and tough as well," he said. "That is why it feels so special to return. I was sad just to watch in front of the TV or in the stands.
"To be honest, you don't feel as part of the group anymore. You are not travelling with the team anymore. You do everything on your own or with the physio. So of course, that is the worst feeling you can have as a football player. So, that is also the reason it was that hard over the months.
I thank you all for your support in the past tough months! It meant a lot to me. Please believe me when I say: I don't take it for granted! pic.twitter.com/CNfnuEvSRb— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) September 18, 2017
"The worst time was of course the day of the injury or when I knew what exactly happened. When I knew there would be six, seven, eight, nine months out. That was the worst feeling.
"The day after the surgery was not so good either. But then, at one point, you start to do it again. You start to do your rehabilitation. You recover. You have ups and downs, days you feel better, days you feel very bad. I think that is normal. It is not just me.
"There are doubts if I will be again at the level I had before so, of course that is the case. As I said because of these ups and downs, more of the downs, it is sometimes frustrating. The doubts are at this point even bigger.
"But I had no other choice. I am a football player. This is what I do. This is what I have done all my life. This is my job. For me, there was no other choice than to try again.
"If I said I am the same player as I was a year ago, I would be lying. I mean, through the injury, you don't feel the same. You don't feel as though you are the most powerful guy in the world – not that I ever did. I had two injuries on my knee and I know what to do to prepare myself for the games and to warm my knee up and be generally fit.
"I will do everything to be as fit as possible. That could be it for all the injuries! I think I am done now! I am ready to continue playing, to keep fit. To enjoy playing."
|F1 2018 Pre-Season Report: Red Bull|
|F1 2018 Pre-Season Report: Force India|
|Melbourne Victory 5 Central Coast Mariners 2: Berisha leads rout with hat-trick|
|Clarke breaks three vertebrae, Greipel has collarbone surgery|
|Waratahs blitz Rebels after scoring 38 unanswered points|
|Del Potro relishing Federer showdown|
|Australia to host two games against Team USA in 2019|
|Grizzlies snap 19-game losing streak, LeBron´s triple-double lifts Cavs|
|McIlroy suggests limiting alcohol sales after Bay Hill abuse|
|Marotta dismisses Allegri-PSG links as Juve focus on Can|
|MLS Review: Champions Toronto still winless, Atlanta crush Whitecaps|
|Lukaku: A lot of players will join Manchester United next season|
|I feel like I just woke up – Indian Wells finalist Federer explains slow start|
|High-flying Reds win third straight in Buenos Aires|
|Salah and Liverpool don´t fear Man City: We´ve beaten them!|
|What can I lose? - Mourinho defends criticism of Man Utd players|
|Mourinho accuses Manchester United of being scared to play|
|Mourinho delivers stinging Shaw criticism after FA Cup win|
|Haskell: England not good enough during Six Nations|
|Allegri waits on Chiellini update after Juve´s SPAL stalemate|
|Stenson leads by one with DeChambeau and McIlroy lurking|
|Racing put pressure on leaders Montpellier as Toulon are toppled|
|Klopp eases concerns over Can´s back complaint|
|Six Nations defeats make no difference to England mindset – Hartley|
|Matic was an island of personality - Mourinho questions United mentality|
|Del Potro demolishes Raonic to set up Federer final|
|He´s getting quicker on the Zimmer frame – Schmidt jokes about Best future|
|SPAL 0 Juventus 0: Scudetto charge halted by Serie A strugglers|
|Manchester United 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 0: Lukaku & Matic book semi-final spot|
|Fresh rib fracture for Cavendish but ´no serious injury´ after crash|
|Unbeaten Federer fights back to reach Indian Wells final|
|Klopp: Salah could be among world´s best, but don´t compare him to Messi|
|Woods hopes to still be within reach at Arnold Palmer Invitational|
|Championship Review: Wolves on the charge as Monk lifts Birmingham´s spirits|
|Twickenham boos will ´put me to sleep at night´, Jones claims|
|Salah threatening Rush´s record for goals in single Liverpool season|
|Hodgson hopes Zaha avoided injury|
|Snow causes Wakefield-Widnes abandonment|
|Liverpool 5 Watford 0: Inspirational Salah nets four as Reds bounce back|
|Lambert rues Everton´s ´offside´ opener in costly Stoke City defeat|
|Scotland´s late rally leaves Townsend feeling positive for the future|
|Wales hold off France to claim second behind Ireland|
|Man Utd bench Pogba & Sanchez for FA Cup quarter-final|
|Pardew: Evans loss key to Bournemouth defeat|
|Zarco breaks track record to claim Qatar pole after Rossi crashes in practice|
|Ireland had to make every moment count against England – Best|
|Salah breaks Torres´ impressive Liverpool record|
|We are not heroes one day and villains the next – Mourinho continues defence of Sevilla exit|
|Lions bounce back against Sunwolves, Stormers end miserable streak|
|Jones: England losing streak only natural|
|They have many players who´d get in my team – The Sevilla stars Mourinho should buy|
|Mario Gomez will not beg for World Cup place|
|England´s form continues to run cold in Twickenham snow|
|Nibali holds on in Milan-San Remo as Cavendish crashes again|
|Bournemouth 2 West Brom 1: Stanislas piles misery on Pardew|
|Buffon to play on for Italy as Di Biagio calls up uncapped duo|
|Huddersfield Town 0 Crystal Palace 2: Tomkins and Milivojevic secure priceless win|
|Stockdale makes history as ruthless Ireland win Grand Slam|
|Stoke City 1 Everton 2: Tosun at the double after Adam´s early dismissal|
|Simeone insists Atletico can survive injury crisis|
|Ireland´s Stockdale breaks Six Nations single campaign try record against England|
|Leipzig out to halt Bayern celebrations at Red Bull Arena|
|NFL Draft 2018: Jets acquire number three overall pick from Colts|
|Board accepts responsibility for West Ham woes, Brady claims|
|In-form Eriksen hopes he hasn´t hit Tottenham ceiling|
|Roma boss Di Francesco happy with Messi, Barca challenge|
|Bangladesh warned over ´unacceptable´ Colombo behaviour|
|The directors know where to find me - Gattuso awaits Milan talks|
|Laidlaw breaks Italian hearts in Rome|
|UMBC´s March Madness win earns everyone in USA free pizza|