By Andy Hall
Injuries are a curse for any footballer, but when you are a young player trying to make your way in the game, they must be particularly hard to bear.
Real Murcia CF midfield player José María Díaz Muñoz can attest to that. Just when his team were celebrating their return to the Primera División after a 14-year absence last June, the 21-year-old was unable to join the championship party because of injury.
"Last season I was loaned to [RS] Gimnastic de Tarragona to get experience but I suffered a serious back injury in March," he explained to uefa.com. "For the first three months I could hardly move and had to wear a surgical corset. It was a huge setback for me to get injured just as Murcia were about to return to the Primera."
The youngster was sidelined as Murcia shocked many in Spain by winning automatic promotion to the top flight and reaching the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, where they lost on away goals to RC Deportivo La Coruña.
Sadly for Muñoz and his Murcia team-mates, injuries have also played a part in the club's first season back among the élite. Influential defender Francisco Maciel broke his ankle in October, while striker Juan Eduardo Esnaider has been in and out of the treatment room since his summer arrival with a knee injury.
Consequently, the club find themselves in a perilous position. This week they sacked coach Joaquín Peiró and replaced him with John Toshack. Murcia are bottom of the Primera División with 13 points and one victory from 20 games - one point behind RCD Espanyol and seven short of Real Zaragoza.
New year focus
Even worse for Muñoz, he has yet to taste top-flight action. "I started playing again at the end of November, with Murcia's B team," he said. "I am not 100 per cent, but I am determined to win back my place in the first team - that's my goal for the new year."
Murcia could certainly use some reinforcements. They have managed encouraging draws against Valencia CF, Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Real Betis Balompié, but badly need a run of good luck and good results if they are to get out of trouble.
"We are suffering, but the team is getting stronger," said Muñoz, "The results against Depor, Valencia and Real Sociedad are proof of that and it has given the side a confidence boost. We have excellent players at the club and just need time for the team to gel."
"We are going to suffer but I think we will escape the drop," added Muñoz, who took his first steps towards professional football when he signed for his local side Club Cordillera Santiago as an eight-year-old. "As for me, nothing has changed. I still have the same enthusiasm for the game that I had when I started out."
Sink or swim
When it comes to making the difference between sinking and swimming in the competitive world of Spanish football, that enthusiasm could prove a vital asset.
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