Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata admits his recent injury nightmare cost him what should have been the best two months of his life.
Boyata sat out the Hoops’ title run-in last term after being stuck down by a hamstring injury during the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Rangers.
He managed to shake that setback off as he was named in the Belgium squad for Euro 2016 - only to then suffer a muscle tear which ruled him out of the tournament just 10 days before the action got under way in France.
It was a bitter blow for the 25-year-old former Manchester City player but he insists the power of positive thinking has helped pull him through that dark period.
Having put in four months of gruelling rehab work, Boyata managed a 45-minute run-out during Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan in Limerick.
Now he says he will not stop striving until he is back in Brendan Rodgers’ team.
He told CelticTV: “I feel good to be back on the pitch and to be able to touch the ball. It’s been a long time but I’m happy. That’s life.
“The last few months have been really frustrating but I got over it. The Rangers game, the injury, going back to the national team, then another injury, missing the Euros, missing pre-season, you know that’s life.
“Life goes on and I just worked hard to get myself back.
“We know how football is, there are ups and downs, and if you think about the downs you are never going to go forward. Football is my life and being on the pitch is what I do best.
“I had to work hard and it was mentally tough for the people around me as it should have been the best two months of my life but it wasn’t. Now it’s about thinking of the future and I keep going.
“I just have to take things step by step. Of course, I want to be back on the pitch as quickly as possible. I got 45 minutes on Saturday and we have to see how it goes in the following days and weeks. I feel good but you don’t want to over-step it.”
Saturday’s International Champions Cup clash with the Nerazzurri was Boyata’s first taste of action with Rodgers in the dug-out since the Northern Irishman replaced Ronny Deila.
Now he hopes to soak up all the former Liverpool manager has to teach him.
“I’ve enjoyed it so far under the new manger,” he said. “We know Brendan’s past as a coach and the experience he has. We can learn a lot from him.”
With the weekend warm-up out of the way, Celtic can begin focusing on the more important matter of Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier against Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
The Parkhead side have been forced to battle past Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar and Kazak champions FC Astana to make it to the final tie before the money-spinning group stages, but Rodgers reckons his side are better equipped now than in previous rounds.
He said: “I’m looking forward to it. We’re playing at home and we’ve loved playing there over the course of pre-season. The atmosphere has been incredible.
“We really need the supporters on Wednesday night. That is going to be vital for us.
“Our aim is to take some advantage over to the second leg and we’re going to be ready for it. Our game is improving as each day goes on and hopefully we can be aggressive, get on the front foot and win the game.”