RC Deportivo La Coruña playmaker Juan Carlos Valerón was happy just to "enjoy the moment" after starting his first Liga game in 1,098 days on Sunday against Real Madrid CF following three operations in two years.
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RC Deportivo La Coruña might have suffered defeat at the hands of Real Madrid CF last weekend, but the club had special reason to celebrate as Juan Carlos Valerón started a Liga game for the first time in 1,098 days.
Valerón's injury nightmare began back on 22 January 2006 during a home league game with RCD Mallorca. The playmaker was carried off with just two minutes remaining after tearing cruciate ligaments in his left knee. In the three years that followed, the 33-year-old suffered numerous setbacks to the extent that club doctor Ramón Barral recently said "his recovery has been extraordinary".
In his first game back, a pre-season friendly against SL Benfica, Valerón broke down and despite returning as a late substitute in the home win over Madrid in early 2007, he was soon forced to go under the knife once more for further work on his left knee. "When you make the decision to have your third operation in two years on the same injury you do it because you hope you will be able to completely recover," Valerón said.
Against the odds, the player known as the 'Magician of Arguineguín' has fought his way back but knows he still has work to do. "I'm confident I can get back to my best," Valerón added, "but it's logical that after so much time out I'll need a while to get that old spark back." His coach, Miguel Ángel Lotina, will hoping so even though he is glad just to have him playing again. "He's in good spirits now," Lotina said. "He's been training excellently and is full of hope. He surely had doubts about his recovery but not any more."
Key to Valerón's recovery has been a desire to help Depor experience more glory days – he was instrumental in his side's 2002 Copa del Rey win against Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu – as well as a strength of character to return to the field, with Barral adding: "At no moment, even through his setbacks, did I see him lose heart. He gave everything he had in order to get back to fitness."
Valerón's contract with the Galician side is set to expire in 2010 yet if anyone thinks that date will mean the end of his career, they may well be mistaken with the player declaring his intention to continue for as long as possible. For now though, with his injury problems hopefully behind him, Valerón can concentrate on Depor's campaigns both at home and abroad, the side lying eighth in the Liga and preparing to take on Aalborg BK in the UEFA Cup Round of 32 next month.