Munich - Following one setback after the other, FC Bayern München defender Holger Badstuber can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Talking to fcbayern.de, the 25-year-old spoke candidly about his near-18-month spell on the sidelines, the taxing road to recovery and his hopes for an injury-free future at the top of the game for both club and country...
Question: Holger Badstuber, you had your hair cut a couple of weeks ago. Is that symbolic of your desire to make a fresh start?
Badstuber: I always wanted to shave my head. It's worked out quite well. Summer's here and the sun is shining on my noggin (laughs). No, but seriously: it's definitely to do with making a fresh start. It's a new chapter for me, something positive that I can really look forward to.
Question: It's not all that long ago that you were able to train with your team-mates for the first time since your injury...
Badstuber: It was a special day for me, an indescribable feeling. I've been even hungrier ever since, more motivated and even more focused. Finally, I'm a proper part of the team again.
Question: What's still missing of the 'old' Holger Badstuber?
Badstuber: For starters, I'm really happy to already be so far along, but I've still got improvements to make: sharpness, tackling, turning, stamina, power, what I can do in front of goal. Every area of my game is still missing a little something, but each intensive session is a big help in that respect.
Question: Do you still worry about making certain movements?
Badstuber: No, not at all. My knee feels great. I'm not spraddle-legged just yet, but we'll soon change that (laughs).
Question: Did your body respond well to the first session of team training?
Badstuber: First it had to settle. There was the odd tweak, but I was happy to take those on the chin because I've already experienced very different kinds of pain.
Question: Why is it that you're training with the second team at the moment?
Badstuber: There's individual training as well, but team training is irreplaceable for me right now. That way I'm making the sort of movements you only make playing football. That's invaluable.
Question: Is it a possibility you could be involved in the second team's play-off games against Fortuna Köln.
Badstuber: I'm still not quite ready. I still haven't played a single game. I want to have a good platform behind me in time for pre-season training with the first team and then really go for it. That's the only thing I'm working towards.
Question: What's your plan for the coming weeks?
Badstuber: I have to train hard and stick at it, but it's also really important that I let my body rest because it's been through so much in the last few months. I'll treat myself to a two-week holiday just so I can switch off!
Question: How excited are you to be able to play an active part in next season's title challenge?
Badstuber: Unbelievably! Finally, I'll be able to enjoy the game again and do what I enjoy more than anything.
Question: Will you be 100 per cent fit in time for the start of the season?
Badstuber: I still have to be patient. Playing a game is completely different to training. I can't afford to rush it but I don't want to be too patient and spend months saying: "It's coming along". I know what I'm capable of.
Question: Looking back, was it the most difficult time in your career?
Badstuber: No question. As a sportsman, there's nothing worse than not being able to play your part. It seemed to go on forever, but I never once felt like saying: "I can't be bothered anymore". I always knew I'd be back.
Question: Even after the second cruciate injury?
Badstuber: The complications were obviously hard to take, but the doctors said I could get back to being 100 per cent again. After that, it was only ever about going in one direction. Obviously there are times when it's going slow, when you're not making progress, but that's when you have to be strong. You have to build the right environment for yourself. Luckily, I was able to do that.
Question: Who was of particular help to you?
Badstuber: Friends, family, people who listened to me, as well as the coaching team and FC Bayern in general. Lots of elements all came together. I would have slapped myself if - with all this support, from the club as well - I said "I'm going to give up now".
Question: What sort of support did you receive?
Badstuber: The club always gave me the feeling that they're excited for me and that I'll be like a new signing in the summer. It's great when you notice that the team are all really pleased with your progress. It's a massive help. But when it comes down to it, I had to go through it alone.
Question: In the meantime, were you still dreaming of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil?
Badstuber: If I'm being honest, I still had a glimmer of hope. Eveything had to go perfectly. At some point, though, I realised it just wasn't realistic. Then all I wanted was a healthy and strong knee - not for one or two years, but for ten.
Question: Will you be following the World Cup as a fan?
Badstuber: I'll watch some games, but not all of them. It's a bit sad for me and it hurts a little not to be involved in Brazil. There's nothing bigger than the World Cup for a footballer. Fortunately, I'm still young and will hopefully be able to play in a couple more major tournaments yet.