A lot has changed since Stuart Holden last took the pitch for Bolton Wanderers. It's been 18 months (with a short playing stint in between) since Jonny Evans injured Stu. The American dynamo is now fully focused on making one final push for a playing return.
"I can't believe I'm lying here on the turf at Old Trafford and I can see my bone. I still see that moment in my head." That was how Stuart Holden recalled the injury he sustained at the studs of Manchester United's Jonny Evans back in March 2011. Speaking in an interview in Howler magazine (if you can get your hands on a copy, it is an absolutely exceptional read), Holden spent a lot of time discussing his injury, the rehabilitation process, and just how difficult a lot of it was.
Along with the ligament damage that Evans' studs caused in Stu's knee, one of the major factors in the extended (18 months) layoff that Holden has had from professional football was actually a very rare bone break. It turns out that Holden suffered a fracture at the top of the bone, right at the knee. This, along with the screw in his knee from the initial surgery, would cause further damage that would keep Holden out a further year after his short playing return in the Carling Cup last year.
Now, after spending nearly all of the last 12 months rehabbing in Delaware, Holden is back in Bolton and is making one final push in order to be fully match fit. He spoke to the Bolton News about his recovery:
"I can definitely say this has been the hardest thing I have had to do in my life. It has really tested me. I think I have come through it with flying colours.
"I want to be standing there after my first game back knowing that all the work was worth it. I've been through some ups and downs in the past year but I can happily say I'm in a great place now and really close to the finish line.
"You know in rehabs you will have days where you feel great and days when you don't want to do anything, thinking the knee will never get strong.
"I think coming through it has made me a better person, mentally and physically, and it feels good to be back.
"I was at the Bristol City game at the Reebok and just to feel the atmosphere again and be back amongst the boys was great.
"I have been working alone and isolated in the US. It allowed me to fully focus and work six hours a day and not have the temptation of wanting to join in with the boys so badly. Now that I am back here, I am really focused on fine-tuning and tinkering. Hopefully, I will be back in full training sooner rather than later."
For Stu Holden, the import thing is not to rush the recovery. Pushing it too hard could very well mean that the last year-and-a-half was all for naught (or nowt, whatever you prefer).
"I had the operation back in September last year, and since then I have been back and forth between here and the US focusing on my rehab and building my muscle back.
"It had to be done at the right pace; if you push it too fast, too soon, it pretty much erases the whole process.
"I have been doing some shooting and crossing, striking the ball - pretty much everything you would do in a game just not at the same intensity yet.
"It is important I build up to that and that will still take a little time yet. The first team play at such a high tempo and going into that before my knee is ready for it will just cause more delays.
"I'm fully focused on getting back on the pitch as long as the timing is right for both me and my little old knee. We have all been working hard for 17 months to get me back fit and we are almost there now."
Here's all the best to Stuart in his recovery. His positive attitude in the face of all the adversity he's faced is really quite incredible. In the aforementioned Howler piece, the writer chronicled his rehabilitation and recalled one exercise where the physical therapist asked him which was his "bad" leg. Stu responded with "There is no bad leg, there's good and better." Incredible.