Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 right-back Atsuto Uchida is slowly building his way back up to full fitness following knee surgery.

The 27-year-old Japan international has not played for the Royal Blues since March, but is optimistic he will be back in first-team action again before long.

'Step by step'

"It won’t be too long hopefully," Uchida told club website schalke04.de. "But I don’t want to give any specific dates because it may well be longer than planned. It may be a while as the tendon was removed. So I can’t say for certain at the moment. I’m taking it step by step."

After going under the knife in a bid to cure a long-term patella tendon complaint, Uchida spent most of the summer recuperating in his native Japan. In recent weeks, however, he has returned to Gelsenkirchen to continue his gruelling rehabilitation programme behind closed doors at Schalke’s Veltins Arena.

"I usually arrive around 9 or 10 in the morning, and then train until 2 or 3," Uchida explained. "First thing is always an electric pulse massage, stretching or just a simple knee massage. Afterwards is training. I have to rebuild the muscles around my knee and thigh, and also improve my general upper body strength. That’s the aim at the moment."

'I would prefer to be on the pitch'

While Uchida has been making tentative steps off the pitch, Schalke have been making great strides on it under Andre Breitenreiter. Die Knappen finished a disappointing sixth last season, but are already up to third a quarter of the way into 2015/16. Uchida, for one, has been mightily impressed.

"Everything’s going well with the team, and they’re picking up a lot of points, so the atmosphere around the ground is good," Uchida explained. "I like to pop my head round the door of the changing room and go and see the coach too. It’s good to stay in contact. I watch all the home games in the Veltins Arena, but I would obviously prefer to be on the pitch myself."

'I will learn a lot'

In Uchida’s absence, summer signings Sascha Riether and Junior Caicara have both put in a number of impressive shifts on the right-hand side of defence. There are players who would feel a little threatened in such a situation, but Schalke’s ever-humble terrace favourite can only see the positives.

"Caicara plays an attacking brand of defending, and has a good presence going forward," Uchida opined. "Riether reacts well to most situations. He reads the game well, can control proceedings and has good discipline. I will learn a lot from both of them."