For any young footballer to suffer two serious knee injuries before the age of 23 would be devastating.
Duncan Watmore has had to contend with that exact scenario, but the determined forward – aiming to return better than ever – admits that the biggest frustration is being unable to play his part in Sunderland’s fight for survival.
Sunderland are bottom of the Championship and could be relegated to the third tier this weekend, for only the second time in the club’s history.
Watmore managed six games this season before being cruelly struck down with a second cruciate knee ligament injury in the space of a year.
Watmore is remaining positive on the long road back to full fitness and is hoping to be able to start running within the next few weeks.
He won’t be fit for the start of the new season in August, though, and is prepared to be patient in order to return as strongly as possible.
“It’s going as well it can at this stage,” said Watmore, who turned 24 in March.
“I’m four-and-a-half months into my rehab, and the swelling on the knee is looking good, so hopefully I can start running soon.
“I’m seeing the surgeon in a couple of weeks and if he gives the go-ahead, I can start running which will be great.
“But I just have to be really patient with the injury. Second time around, if anything, it will take longer, and I can’t rush it.
“Obviously I want to be back and playing, but I also need to make sure that it’s right.
“You don’t want to rush back and do anything silly.
“I didn’t rush back last time. We did everything right and I was just unfortunate – it was a really unlucky tackle, I got caught and it snapped again.
“It could have happened to anyone.
“So I’m doing the same rehab work again, staying patient, and hopefully I won’t have any more bad luck!”
After returning from a 10-month lay-off in September, following his first knee injury, Watmore featured regularly under former boss Simon Grayson, re-establishing himself as a key player.
But he suffered a recurrence of the cruciate knee ligament injury in the same knee against Millwall, in November, the day before Chris Coleman replaced the axed Grayson.
Watmore added: “I felt like I built up quite quickly because I only managed about five games, but I was already starting to feel sharp and I felt that I was able to make a positive impact on the team.
“What makes it all the more frustrating is the position we are in and the season we have had, and knowing that I haven’t been able to help.
“It’s my job to play football and I wanted to be able to play my part along with the rest of the lads, but I just haven’t been able to.
“That has been the most frustrating part.”
Other players have come back successfully from double cruciate injuries, including ex-Sunderland duo David Meyler and Fraizer Campbell, both now at Hull City.
“I’m not going to be back for the start of the season, but I’ll be back just as soon as I am fully ready,” said Watmore.
“I’m working as hard as I can with the physio Binners [David Binningsley], doing everything possible to make sure that I come back and stay back.
“But even though I might have a target in my head, I don’t want to put pressure on myself by saying it out loud.
“I need to be realistic and understand that, suffering such a serious injury for a second time, I just have to be careful.
“I fully expect to return and be back to my best – if not better than before.
“It will take time, obviously, because I will have been out for so long, but I am determined to get back to my best.
“I’m doing everything I can physically, and staying as positive as I can mentally, to do that.
“I’m just raring to get back playing.”
Watmore isn’t your average footballer and two years ago graduated from Newcastle University with a first class honours degree in economics and business management.
Having interests outside of football has helped during his lengthy rehab spells.
Speaking at a Foundation of Light coaching session, Watmore said: “Sometimes this is the best thing about being a footballer.
“There is no better feeling than scoring and winning a game in front of the fans, but it’s also about coming to events like this and putting a smile on people’s faces.
“It’s a big part of being a footballer. We have a social responsibility to the community and it is very important to get involved in these kind of events.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I know Campy [Lee Camp] did as well.
“I’m very much aware that there’s life outside football, so I didn’t put too much pressure on myself and get upset about the knee.
“There are so many ways in which I am a fortunate person, so it would be pointless getting too down about my knee. Being negative wouldn’t help my rehab.
“I think the degree, and everything that I did outside of football, might have helped with that.”