Ebi Smolarek finally rejoined the squad on the training pitch adjacent to the Kuip Monday. Clearly a great relief to Smolarek, although he’s the first to admit that his seven-month layoff has had a positive impact on his outlook. ‘When you’re out for so long, you start to realise how great a footballer’s life is. Sometimes I used to think I’d had enough after an hour, now I’d like to do four hours.’

‘After seven long months of recovery at Zeist I’ve been training with the Feyenoord squad again since the Christmas holiday. And I have to say that it’s a great feeling to be back at the Kuip. The fact that I’m training here again means I’m in the final phase of my recovery. I’m no longer on my own; I’m now back in the group. It’s great to have that group feeling again. I really missed the camaraderie. ‘You only really realise you’ve missed things once you get back. The fact that I was away for so long was my own conscious choice. I found it necessary to concentrate fully on my recovery. And I’m not there yet. The lads are training once or twice a day, while I’m at the stadium the whole day working through my recovery programme. ‘During my recover I’ve had a lot of support from ex-Feyenoorder Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Giovanni had exactly the same injury as me, but he was further along in his recovery. We were able to talk about how we felt and how we were progressing. Giovanni is fit again now and I enjoyed seeing him scoring. It was more proof for me that the knee will turn out okay eventually, provided you do the right things. ‘This period has been a learning curve. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was good for me – I’ll only be able to say that at the end of my career – but I do try to take the good things out of it. I have discovered that footballers have a fantastic life as long as they are fit, although they do complain about minor things. Sometimes I used to think I’d had enough after an hour, now I’d like to do four hours. You only know what you miss when you cannot do it any more. Now I wouldn’t want to miss training with the ball for anything. ‘As expected, you become anonymous very quickly when you have an injury. That’s only logical, because people don’t see you anymore. You are forgotten, that how football works. But I didn’t really mind that, because it gave me the space I needed to work on my recovery. I have also learned to be focussed and disciplined. You really have to invest heavily if you’re going to get fit. I did and I didn’t train a single day with a feeling that I didn’t want to do it. ‘I’m now entering the last phase of my recovery, which should lead to my return to the squad sometime in February or March. I’m working on a daily basis with the medical staff at Feyenoord and with John Metgod and Toine van de Goolberg. I’m looking forward to showcasing myself again, but thankfully I don’t need to rush or force things. The fact that Feyenoord recently extended my contract by three years gives me a lot of confidence. I hope to repay some of that soon.’
Feyenoord Business CLub