Interview: Sasa Papac, Rangers player

MOST past injuries footballers are able to put out of their heads. But there are some, as Sasa Papac knows all too painfully, that they literally can't.

• A car accident left Sasa Papac more vulnerable on the pitch but mentally stronger

The scarring around the eye and indent in the nose of the Rangers full-back are not the product of the head knock he suffered against Hibernian six weeks ago, which left him with concussion and a gash that required ten stitches. Neither was the accidental collision with striker Valdas Trakys the principal reason his subsequent recuperation period eventually stretched to a month.

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Instead, both are the legacy of a head-on car crash in Vienna five years ago that left Papac with fractures to cheek bone, eye socket and nose, as well as other head and leg injuries. The then Austria Vienna player had to undergo an emergency six-hour operation and remained in hospital for a fortnight. Surgeons could give him "no guarantees" he would ever play again. Yet, he was back in action only two-and-a-half months after the accident, a turn of events that was little short of miraculous. The initial prognosis was that a full six months had to be given before any decision could be taken on whether he could resume his profession.

The aftershock from the accident was not restricted to those dark days of 2005, however. Papac is still feeling that now. He must deal with the constant fear that any head knock could have potentially serious consequences for his continued involvement in the game because of a vulnerability to headaches - which he suffered for weeks after being forced off against Hibs. With refreshing candour, the player confesses that he still harbours concerns over how the road smash could bring him to a grinding halt. It is something he cannot simply blank when he is on the pitch.

"Believe me, I always think about it," Papac says. "For me it's a big problem. Since the car crash I've had a sore head on a couple of occasions after games. I must live with this but any game is difficult for me. I have control of the situation but when I'm back home in my country I visit my doctor and have him check me out. But he never says to me 'Sasa, you must stop' or 'Sasa, you can play ten more years'.

"It's up to me. I must see myself what the situation is. I must be the judge. I live with it and see how I'm feeling. Sometimes it's a problem and other times it's not too bad. I'm not on any medication. Sometimes I can feel it after a game, especially if it's been a physical match. That's why I always joke that I was unlucky moving to Scottish football with so many high balls. What happened in the Hibs game could happen at any time. I don't know what happened after that match but luckily I'm good again.But I worry, really I worry. I've never had an injury in my career. My body is great from the chin down but the head is always a problem."

Papac believes his problems last month can be put down to not using his brain when he challenged Trakys. Yet, considering what the 30-year-old knows and feels about his delicate condition, that he would pay little heed to personal safety when launching himself into an aerial duel speaks volumes for his willingness to put himself on the line for the Ibrox club. Signed as a centre-back by Paul Le Guen in the summer of 2006, he has been doing that with distinction since Walter Smith switched him to left back late in his first season.

"All I know about the injury is that I clashed with another player but I don't know how or what happened. I honestly can't remember. I was knocked out at the time, concussed. I didn't know what was happening. It was purely accidental, of course. In fact, when I watched it on television afterwards it was probably more my fault than anything else. Maybe I should have protected myself a bit better. When you're jumping for a header you should always lead with the elbow to make sure you protect yourself," he says.

In the aftermath, Rangers' club doctor Paul Jackson, who Papac says he can have complete confidence in because "he knows my situation and history", told him to rest. What he couldn't tell him was for how long. That is the precarious nature of what the defender must contend with. "You never know after concussion," Papac says. "It can be ten days or it can be six weeks. For me it was gone after four weeks but it was difficult during my time off. I couldn't exercise and if I started training then my headaches would come back, but after four weeks it was gone completely and now it feels absolutely fine."

And Papac feels fine about the player and person he has become because of a horrendous accident. A more dedicated, driven individual, determined to make the most of a second chance he, at one stage, couldn't be sure would be given to him. "It sounds stupid but what happened has helped me in life," Papac says. "It changed my life completely on the pitch and off it.

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"I just wanted to show everyone that I could come back and be better than I was before the car crash. From the first day I wanted to show to everyone I could be better than ever. Of course I worried. I could see my face in the mirror and knew that it didn't look good after the car crash but I always had something in the inside and I fought." And Papac continues to fight successfully in the battle of mind over grey matter.