Munich - Watching FC Schalke 04 defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos scoot about the pitch at the Royal Blues’ winter training base in Doha, it is hard to believe the Greek international spent the most part of 2013 on the sidelines.

His smile alone is worth a thousand words: after tearing ligaments in his left knee way back in November 2012, the man Schalke fans affectionately call ‘Papa’ is back - and not a moment too soon.

'I’ve really missed it'


“When you’re injured and can’t play, it’s really, really tough, but I’m the sort of person who always thinks positively,” explained the baby-faced centre back. “I feel really good and can take part in an entire team training session. It’s a wonderful feeling. Finally, I’m here, can train hard with the lads and have fun. I’ve really missed it. I’m back again!”

The 22-year-old’s jubilant words will come as music to the ears of the Royal Blue masses, who must have feared the worst when the Greece star suffered one setback after the other following the initial layoff, before at long last stepping off the substitutes’ bench to a standing ovation against SC Freiburg on Matchday 16 of the current campaign.

'I’m only looking ahead'


“Honestly, I love these fans”, Papadopoulos beamed. “They’re phenomenal, indescribable - it’s crazy. It was a lovely moment and has given me lots of strength for the upcoming games […] I’m not thinking about the past anymore. I’m only looking ahead.”

And who can blame him? After taking another small step to reclaiming his place in the Schalke starting XI with a late run-out in die Knappen’s final assignment of 2013 in Nuremberg, 'Papa' took a giant leap against Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa earlier this week, lasting 45 minutes of a narrow 2-1 win.

'Hope to help the team'


“I didn’t have any problems after the game,” the 16-time Greece international confirmed, before turning his attentions to the upcoming Bundesliga restart. “Staying healthy is what matters most. Anything else is just a bonus. We want to knuckle down and climb the table […] I hope I can help the team reach their goals.”

With team-mate Klaas-Jan Huntelaar not that far away from a return from knee troubles of his own and only four points separating Jens Keller’s seventh-placed charges and the top four at the halfway stage of the season, Schalke's fit-again Katerini native has every reason to be optimistic.

Christopher Mayer-Lodge