At one point during his two-and-a-half-year injury torment Nenad Brnović's only wish was to walk again. The FK Budućnost Podgorica midfielder now harbours international hopes.
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The landmark moment in FK Budućnost Podgorica midfielder Nenad Brnović's career is not a special victory or a winning goal, but the instant he broke his leg on 21 March 2006 and entered into a two-and-a-half-year nightmare.
Brnović suffered the injury during a game for FK Partizan against former club FK Zeta. In a flash, a career that had seen Brnović earn 17 caps for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro and become a regular for Partizan was thrown into doubt.
That injury was a shock, but nothing can compare with my feelings when doctors told me that my first operation was unsuccessful," said the 30-year-old. "During my first rehabilitation period I was pretty calm because lots of players, like Henrik Larsson and Djibril Cissé, have had similar injuries and returned.
"When I heard I needed more surgery, my only wish was to walk normally again. However, I soon realised that football is part of my life, the only job I am good at. So I fought for two-and-a-half years to be a footballer again."
It was his substitute appearance for Partizan in a friendly against PAOK FC on 7 September 2008 that told Brnović he had reached the light at the end of the tunnel: "After everything I went through, I knew nothing could stop me.
"I played with great players in the national team and with Partizan – Predrag Mijatović, Siniša Mihajlović, Dejan Stanković, Darko Kovačević, Ivan Tomić and Albert Nađ – and against greats like Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes, but my biggest success is that I'm playing football again."
Brnović says he knew his "destiny was not to finish my career at 26" and after a loan spell at FK Rad, he became a Budućnost player last June and has made 24 league appearances this term. "I wanted to play more matches and fight for titles," he said.
"Budućnost is the ideal club for that. In the first part of the season I had problems adapting to competitive football. I admit I was fearful, but right now I feel very comfortable on the field. I'm playing better and better. I am aware I will never be the same as before the injury, but I will try to get close to that level."
Though grateful for what he has, one goal remains above all others for Brnović: "I don't think it's too late for me. I am 30, but there are older players than me in the Montenegrin national team. That's my only wish – just one match, just one minute in the Montenegro jersey. As long as I play, I will never stop hoping that my dream will come true."