Soccer-Militao on cloud nine for Champions League final after ACL recovery


  • Football
  • Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Soccer Football - LaLiga - Villarreal v Real Madrid - Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal, Spain - May 19, 2024 Real Madrid's Eder Militao reacts REUTERS/Pablo Morano/ File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - When Real Madrid centre back Eder Militao was forced out of their season opener against Athletic Bilbao on Aug. 12 after badly hyper-extending his left knee, he was sure his 2023-24 campaign was already over.

Five years after signing from Porto for 50 million euros ($54.27 million), Militao was in his prime and widely considered one of the best defenders in the world as a regular starter for both Real and Brazil.

However, as he lay on a hospital bed getting ready to undergo surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Militao was only 'dreaming' of fulfilling the estimated recovery time of around 10 months before the 2024 Copa America was scheduled to begin.

The 26-year-old exceeded expectations, though, and recovered ahead of schedule, resuming full training seven months after the surgery and returning to club action in late March.

He said that 'not even in his wildest dreams' would he have seen himself in the position he is now, wearing his boots having taken part in Real's training a few days ahead of what will be his second Champions League final.

"I feel like I'm watching a movie," Militao told Reuters on Monday as Real Madrid prepare to face Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on Saturday.

"The injury came along at a time when I was feeling really well, on a physical and mental level. It all seems to have gone so quickly now, doesn't it? But for me, having gone through that period, it was very difficult and painful.

"Suddenly you are forced to stop doing everything you're used to doing in your routine and you're at home unable to do simple things on your own, having to depend on help of others to get up, to take a shower... As an athlete, it was a humbling experience..."

Militao said that solitude and isolation were his biggest enemies during the darkest moments early on in his recovery. That was when he relied on family who helped him to see things with a different perspective.

"If you're out there by yourself and 100% focused on the injury, it feels like you end up going a bit crazy," he said.

"The way out was to appreciate the good things I got from that time, like spending more time with my family... And suddenly, around five months (after the surgery) when I was even joking that I was not even a footballer anymore, I caught myself talking ball again.

"I started joking with my physio that maybe I could snatch a couple of games later on in the season... maybe three... I was just thinking about recovering with no setbacks..."

TRICKY DECISION

Militao's recovery has left Real manager Carlo Ancelotti with a tricky decision. The Italian has used holding midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Nacho alongside Antonio Ruediger in defence after both Militao and David Alaba sustained ACL tears early in the season.

With Tchouameni out with a foot injury, Ancelotti is left to decide between the Brazilian and Spaniard Nacho, 34, who has had a stellar campaign, clinching a spot in Spain's provisional squad for Euro 2024.

Starting in Saturday's final doesn't bother Militao - he is just thankful to be back in a position to help his team win a record-extending 15th Champions League title.

"I wouldn't even dream that I could available to play in another European Cup final nine months later... It's just crazy," Militao said with a smile.

"I insist, not in my wildest dreams. I feel ready and 100% if I get the call to start."

($1 = 0.9213 euros)

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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