It is almost two years since Cedric Itten’s career was cruelly interrupted by a reprehensibly late challenge which inflicted serious damage on his right knee.
The incident sparked outrage in Swiss football and the perpetrator, Lugano’s former West Ham United defender Fabio Daprela, was hit with a six-match suspension by the authorities.
For Itten, who had made a permanent move to St Gallen from Basel only two months earlier, it meant seven months on the sidelines and a lonely battle to recover from the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
It is a testament to the big striker’s mentality and resilience that since his return to action last year, he has been stronger and more prolific than before. His form earned him a call-up to the Swiss international side last November and his 19 goals in 34 appearances for St Gallen last season persuaded Rangers to sign him last week in a deal worth around £2.7 million.
“It was a very hard time when I couldn’t play for seven months,” reflects the 23-year-old who hopes to make his first starting appearance for Steven Gerrard’s side against St Johnstone at Ibrox on Wednesday night.
“I had to work a lot on my body and learn a lot, about how my knee works and everything else.
“It was very hard to only be able to watch football and not help the team. But I worked a lot on my body and also mentally to make sure I was ready when I came back. I learned a lot to keep up that level of work for the rest of my career.
“Of course, at the time it was difficult. I knew that it would probably be an ACL injury because I felt the pain. Also, with the way the tackle was.
“But I tried to keep going and say to myself that I had this time to work on myself and get better. You don’t usually have seven months to just work on you.
“I was very happy that I came back like I did. I felt really strong. When I came back, I was immediately able to play again and then I got my first experience with the national team. Everything went well and I think I made progress in that time.”
Itten signed a four-year contract on his arrival at Rangers last Tuesday then made his debut as a late substitute for Alfredo Morelos in their 3-0 win over St Mirren on Sunday. He insists he hopes to partner the Colombian international striker, linked with a move to Lille, rather than replace him.
“Morelos is a big player for this club,” added Itten. “He scored two goals in the last game and also before he has scored many goals for Rangers. I will try to learn from him, to play with him and connect with him. Perhaps we play together. Competition is good. It’s always important to have good players and that is the way to get better.
“Rangers is such a huge club so I am very happy to have signed and to be here. I have had a lot to take in over the past week. To see Ibrox was great and I’ve already had my first experience of playing there. It was a very busy week but a very nice week.
“I didn’t ask anyone specifically about Scottish football before I came here. I just spoke to my agent. Then when I spoke to the manager here and all the staff at Rangers I was very happy.
“I could see straight away that it is a very big and ambitious club that wants to have a lot of success. That really impressed me because that is what I want as well.
“The manager expects to see me play the same way as I did at St Gallen. That’s why they brought me here. It’s very nice for him to say that about me. It’s a big honour.”
A Swiss Super League winner with Basel in 2016, Itten hopes that experience will help him meet the demands he faces at Rangers.
“Like Rangers, Basel is a big club where there is always a big expectation from the fans,” he said. “It was really nice for me to win the title in my first season with them. We also played in the Champions League and Europa League so I have a little bit of experience of that environment as well.”
Itten also believes his move to Rangers will enhance his prospects of a place in the Switzerland squad for next year’s European Championship finals.
“I’m happy that I have made two appearances for my country already but to play for a big club like Rangers can help me a lot to be in the squad and the national team,” he said.
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