FORMER Hearts and Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon is confident of getting back to his best form – and perhaps even improving on it – provided he can finally overcome the knee injury which has kept him out of action since last season.
The 30-year-old, who has 40 Scotland caps, has been a free agent since his release by Sunderland in the summer of 2012.
Gordon kept his counsel earlier this year when rumours began to circulate that he had retired, letting it be known through friends that he had nothing to say until there was positive news on his rehabilitation.
Now, while a return to professional football remains far from certain, he has become steadily more hopeful he can overcome the rare patellar tendon condition which restricts his mobility.
“I’ve always been optimistic, right from the start, that I’d be able to continue, and I’ll do whatever it takes to improve things to the level where I can get back,” Gordon said yesterday at St Mirren Park in Paisley, where he was making a presentation at the Uefa Goalkeeping Coach Education Seminar. “Lots of clubs have offered me training facilities for next season, and if I feel fit enough to take them up on that, then I will do that.
“I don’t yet know how far away from that I am. This is going to be a big summer for me and I’ll look at other possibilities and options, different types of treatment.
“Unfortunately, it’s such an unusual injury that at the moment there isn’t a great deal of science or expertise behind it.
“If I’d suffered cruciate ligament damage instead of this then I’d have had it fixed by now. I’m something of a test case: there have been a few others but not many. It’s mainly a basketball injury or something that you’d sustain through jumping.
“It was during a reserve game for Sunderland against Everton that I first felt the pain while kicking the ball. My foot was planted at the time and it seems sometimes that injuries you inflict on yourself are worse than ones which involve contact.
“That’s been the case with me and it’s been hurting ever since. Twisting, turning and jumping are problems at the moment, which isn’t great.
“Progress has been made, though, and it’s definitely better than it was. I’ll take the positives from that and, hopefully, it will continue over the next couple of months. I’ll reassess my situation after the summer, see what stage I’m at and then, if it’s possible, look to get back into playing.
“As long as the pain is under control then I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to play at the highest level again.”
To anyone who has seen Gordon at his best, there would be little doubt that if fully fit he would be an asset to any club.
But, after more than a year out, he is making no presumptions about which level he should return to. Instead, he accepts some clubs may be sceptical about his ability to recover his best form, and is therefore willing to take any opportunity.
“If I have to start again at the very bottom, I don’t care. It’s a matter of getting myself healthy, and I’d play anywhere just to get back and prove myself again.
“That’s what I look forward to most: getting back to where I was and proving to everybody that I can do that. That will be the question on everyone’s lips, what they’ll be looking out for.
“I would relish that opportunity and it would be brilliant having people judging me again. It’s all about my fitness – as far as technique and ability are concerned, I’d back myself to be as good as I was, if not better.
“You’re always looking to improve and that’s still the long-term goal. I’m only 30, so I should have another decade left, which is also why there’s no rush to get back immediately and maybe do more damage.
“I need to make sure that I’m ready and that, when I do go back, I’m able to cope with the demands of professional football – and not just for three or four months but for the next ten years. Of course, it’s possible that people might not want to take a chance on me, but I won’t return until my knee is at that level.
“Whatever manager gives me that chance, I’ll take it, show what I’m capable of and move on from there. It shouldn’t take that long to prove myself again.
“It may be I’m asked to go and do that for four or five weeks. Who knows? It would be good just to be in that position, where I felt able to do that. It would be a massive step forward for me.”