Florent Sinama Pongolle claims he has never been more motivated in his career as he aims to repay Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen for his faith.
The 31-year-old hopes for his Ladbrokes Premiership debut at Kilmarnock today as he attempts to resurrect his career following a three-year spell blighted by injury, including a damaged cruciate ligament.
The former Liverpool striker has been fit to play in less than 12 months of those three years, which were spent with Russian side Rostov, Chicago Fire and Lausanne, and struggled to find a new club until Paatelainen brought him to Tannadice.
The former France international now aims to prove the doubters wrong by helping United close a seven-point gap at the foot of the table.
“My appetite has never been stronger,” he said. “I have had three really tough years, with two big injuries. That has made me work a lot outside the pitch.
“My last [knee] surgery went really well and I’ve been working well with great people who have made me stronger and able to do what I do best – playing football.
“I’m 31 years old so you can’t expect the same legs I had when I was 21, but I’m more clever, experienced and mature.
“I had a really hard time in France. Many clubs in the second or third division were even scared to take me on trial. That really affected me a lot because I realised people judged me without knowing what I’m like as a man and a player.
“That’s why I really thank the club here. In the first meeting with the manager, we spoke man to man, head to head, eye to eye, partly about football but more than this, the human part. This made a big difference.”
Meanwhile, Kilmarnock defender Kevin McHattie believes he has the credentials to play down talk of an emergency situation at United.
Paatelainen admitted following last week’s 2-1 home defeat by Hamilton that crisis was not too strong a word to describe the plight of his struggling club.
United are bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership, seven points behind Motherwell and with one win in seven since the Finn replaced Jackie McNamara in October.
However, McHattie was a teenager at Hearts when wages were not getting paid with a transfer embargo imposed and the club deducted 15 points ahead of the 2013-14 season for falling into administration, before they were relegated out of the top flight.
The 22-year-old left-backsaid: “We weren’t getting paid at Hearts and the club went into administration.We had the points deducted and it was hard, but we battled through it.
“It was a young team back then but over the long term it has stood the players in good stead.
“It is hard for them [United]. I have been there with Hearts when you are getting beat week-in, week-out and things are not going your way and things were happening off the pitch.
“They are coming here on some bad form and we need to capitalise on that. They will come here with confidence dented but they will want to prove us wrong and we expect a challenge.”