LionsXII striker Khairul Nizam cut a lonely figure as he did some brisk walking at the sidelines of his team's training session at the Hougang Stadium on Thursday.
Last Tuesday, he lasted only 54 minutes in his first start of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) campaign against Pahang, before succumbing to yet another injury to his troublesome left knee.
"I was challenging for the ball when I took a knock to my knee, and that was it for my night," he recalled. "I was frustrated. I wasn't expecting my night to end like this."
According to team physiotherapist Nurhafizah Abu Sujad, Nizam had sprained the lateral side of his left knee after landing badly, and while he should resume full training in the next few days, he would play no part in last night's match against Selangor.
For the 22-year-old forward, it is another frustrating step backwards in his slow road back from his two-year injury hell, something which has left many wondering if his promising career has already been curtailed.
Since August 2012, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee during a friendly match, he has been restricted to just over 300 minutes of football. When he does play, his knee would swell up quickly, and rule him out for another couple of weeks.
Said Nurhafizah: "The initial tear in Nizam's knee has left him without a 'cushion' to protect the area, so he feels a lot of pain whenever his knee takes a knock.
"His knee will swell up and he will need to rest it for a week or two before resuming full training."
She added that the ACL tear has also led to the degeneration of the cartilage owing to excessive wear and tear. This requires surgery, and recovery would take four months.
Nizam has opted to explore the surgery option only in December, so as to remain available for the MSL, Malaysia Cup and the AFF Suzuki Cup with the Lions.
Nevertheless, the numerous setbacks has occasionally left him frustrated and depressed.
"Back when I had all those injuries, I had thought of quitting football altogether," he said. "Thankfully, my family, friends and team-mates were always by my side, giving me encouragement and the strength to pull through."
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad, who still insists that Nizam is the the most talented striker in his squad, is backing the youngster to pull through his injuries and help fire the goals to help his team retain their MSL crown.
He said: "I've been telling him that he must stay positive and work harder than before by doing his rehabilitation properly.
"There are other players who have had bad injuries in their careers too. If they can pull through that, so can Nizam, but he must retain the belief that he can do it."
Starting this week, Nizam will head to the gym to to try and build more strength and power in his legs.
"I want to come back stronger from this," he said. "I've trained so hard to get back here after two years, and I'm not planning to throw it away.
"If I have no choice but to stop football because my body can't take it, I would but until then, I can still make an impact and that's what I want to do."
This article was published on April 20 in The Straits Times.
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