Gelsenkirchen - When made his long-awaited return to the field of play during Schalke's 3-1 win over TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Matchday 24, anyone standing outside the Veltins Arena could have been forgiven for thinking the Royal Blues had scored another goal.

The former VfL Bochum youngster, making his first appearance in eight months, received a rapturous reception when he entered the fray after 56 minutes of Saturday's victory, showing not only how much he had been missed in that time, but more importantly how highly rated the 20-year-old is in Gelsenkirchen.

Difficult time


Goretzka's return brings an injection of enthusiasm to an attack which had turned rather stale in recent weeks, but not even he expected the ovation he received at the Veltins Arena at the weekend. "It was really, really special," said the Bochum native.

Indeed, after eight months kicking his heels on the sidelines, to be on the field rather than looking down at it was more than just a relief. "It wasn't an easy time," he continued. "I had been close to a comeback for a while, but I kept getting knocked back. Now I can put all that behind me and it feels really, really great. I'm absolutely delighted."

Mouth-watering attacking prospect


The joy at his return seems to be shared in equal measure by Goretza's team-mates. "I'm delighted that Leon's back," said two-goal matchwinner Max Meyer. "He's a good friend - my best friend in the team. I've felt for him. Eight months is a terribly long time and I'm pleased that he's back. I think we're going to get on like a house on fire."

The two were reunited on the European stage as Schalke set pulses racing with a breathtaking 4-3 win away to Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League three days later, only to exit the competition on aggregate. The performance was nevertheless exactly what coach Roberto Di Matteo had been waiting for after openly lamenting his lack of options in the final third in recent weeks. Now, at long last, Schalke's No8 is finally ready to show why he was so close to a place in Germany's FIFA World Cup squad last summer.

Step by step


Goretzka is more than just an option for Di Matteo, though. Able to play centrally or out wide, his composure in possession and eye for goal are attributes that could prove invaluable to Schalke between now and the end of the season. Having waited so long for his return, however, Goretzka is keen to take things one step at a time. "Of course I'd love to be in the starting XI again soon," he said. "Half an hour against Hoffenheim did me the world of good.

"But I also realised that I still need to make up a few per cent," he added. "I think I'll be able to get myself up to speed with brief appearances off the bench, because that's not something you can just get in training." Once his sharpness returns, Goretzka will hope to hear those cheers at the Veltins Arena again, only this time while reeling away to celebrate a goal.