The extent of the harm his injury would cause Hearts may not have proved as ruinous as many initially feared but when the surgeons opened up Christophe Berra, the level of damage done to his leg was far more severe.
“When the surgeon was in there and could see it, he did say that with what had happened with my tendons, it looked like a bomb had gone off, that’s how damaged they were. He had to stitch it all up,” said the Hearts captain.
The hamstring injury, which saw the muscle ripped completely off the bone, was sustained in the second Premiership game of the season and signalled the end of his involvement in the Gorgie club’s explosive start to the season. On the pitch at least.
That game represented the side’s sixth in an unbeaten run that, even without their influential captain, would eventually stretch to 13 and take them to the League Cup semi-finals and keep them at the top of the Premiership table for the first few months of the season. While experience and maturity have taught Berra to relish the greater good, he concedes that missing out on that run was frustrating.
“You enjoy the wins but I won’t lie, you want to be out there winning and be involved,” he said. “You do feel a bit left out sometimes but as time goes on you get used to it. I’m not a 21-year-old who is just thinking about himself, I’m 33 and it’s more about the team. If you’re involved in a successful team then success will come to you individually and, hopefully, Hearts will be my last club. Young players want to do well and maybe move on whereas my thoughts are different.”
That altruistic view manifested itself in the captain’s role he continued to play off the field. While others wore the armband on match day, he would still make himself available, as a colleague and a supporter.
Even when he was forced off against Celtic, he had a chair brought out to the tunnel so he could hobble out and watch the end of the contest and has missed little action since.
“You’re there everyday, even on match day a couple of hours before the game and then after, saying a few things and maybe speaking to individuals and trying to pass on some advice to the younger ones.
“I’ve been to every game apart from the first two. I didn’t need to go to all the games but I just wanted to be there and be involved. I felt if I wasn’t there I wouldn’t be doing myself justice.
“The only games I missed were Kilmarnock and Dunfermline away because I was on crutches but I’ve been to every other game. I enjoy it, the build-up.
“I was on the couch for those two games because it was not long after my operation so I was on crutches and I was advised to stay at home. I watched the Kilmarnock game on Hearts TV and listened to the Dunfermline one on the radio. It was torture sitting there, you can’t deny that.
“Everything about that spell was the hardest. The isolation, the difficulty in performing everyday tasks, from going up and down stairs, going to the toilet, having a shower – when you can’t put weight on your right foot it’s so difficult. That was the toughest part but as soon as you start working in the gym and doing cardio stuff it is better. The last two or three weeks, when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel it’s hard as well because you’re champing at the bit to play but also you have to be cautious.”
The initial prognosis was that he could miss up to six months of action but now, just over three months later, he is hoping to return to competitive first-team action, against Rangers, at Tynecastle, this afternoon.
“I am ahead of schedule but I have worked hard. Everybody is different and everybody’s body is different and putting that work in early doors, getting that right advice from the medical team and looking after myself diet-wise until I got back running – it’s small things like that.”
He made it through 45 minutes of a friendly against Linlithgow Rose midweek and Hearts are in need of his leadership qualities as they seek to turn their recent fortunes around, regain their scoring form and arrest a run of five defeats in eight.
Given his mindset throughout his rehabilitation, he is the right man to turn negatives into positives, though.
“Being injured for a long period of time can turn into a positive, I’ve probably done more leg weights than I’ve ever done and hopefully I will come back stronger. I’ve had this injury so I will always have to do work on my hamstring just to keep on top of it. It might be stronger than it ever has been.”
With fellow Tynie casualty Steven Naismith expected back in a couple of weeks and John Souttar, Uche Ikpeazu and new signing David Vanecek all likely to be available after the winter break, if they can make it through the next few fixtures without too much damage, the theory is the squad as a whole could be stronger than ever as well.