BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jake Forster-Caskey is hoping he will be back in first-team action for Charlton Athletic before the end of the season – and admits that the club finishing in a play-off spot will aid him in hitting that objective.
The 24-year-old midfielder ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in training just days before the League One opener at Sunderland.
Forster-Caskey had surgery in late September. At the time the former Brighton man said there had been “a lot of tears” in the days following the injury setback.
Now the Addicks number eight is hoping to be back in full training in the next few weeks.
Forster-Caskey says his step-dad Nicky Forster – who played for Brentford, Reading, Birmingham City, Charlton and the Seagulls – was able to provide great advice as he had twice been in the same boat.
“I’d put so much into pre-season – I’d probably done more than I had ever done in my career in terms of the off season,” said Forster-Caskey. “I got stuck into everything and felt as fit as I ever had.
“I’m coming into my prime as a footballer, I was feeling good and coming off a good season before. I was really enjoying my football and loving playing for Charlton – then it [the injury] happened.
“It was the Thursday before the Sunderland game. We already knew the team and I was looking forward to playing in a big game.
“I don’t know if my foot got stuck in the ground, I’m not too sure, but I went over and not in a natural way.
“I knew straight away it was a bad one, because when you do this sort of injury you normally hear a loud noise – and I heard a massive sort of pop from my knee.
“I knew right then it wasn’t going to be days or weeks – it was going to be months.
“I’d been quite lucky in my career before. I had not done anything major. But this is one of the worst ones you can do.
“It was devastating at the time.
“It took three or four days to get over it.
“There were tears and lots of things going through my mind – like whether I’d kick a ball again.
When you do something like this, you think about every scenario.
“But I spoke to some good people – the physios and my step-dad. Unfortunately he did it twice and he told me: ‘You’ll be fine. You just have to work hard on your rehab and you’ll be back exactly how you were before – if not stronger for it’.
“He did the same injury as me twice and came back as good both times. One thing he said stuck in my mind. He said: ‘You don’t get a second chance to rehab’. I just kept telling myself that over the last few months, because you do get times where you’re feeling a bit down.
“I’ve worked really hard, done long hours and put everything into it. Hopefully I’ll see the benefit when I’m looking to get back to train.”
Forster-Caskey is already doing the warm-up section of training with the senior squad and expects to step it up to non-contact within the next week.
“You are a floater – no-one touches you,” he said. “About a week of that and then you go full contact. If that goes okay then I’ll be looking for an U23 game or two, before you’re declared fit.
“I get a lot of people ask me: ‘When are you going to come back?’ It is not that easy when it comes to this injury. It is about how you feel. Even at this stage now it is still regarded as part of my rehab, even though I’m with the boys.”
Charlton’s season looks almost certain to stretch into mid-May with the play-offs, and it will be the end of that month if they reach the final at Wembley.
“In a bit of a selfish way it has almost worked out as a benefit to me,” said Forster-Caskey.
“Hopefully I can have some sort of impact due to the season being slightly longer.
“We’re still hoping other teams slip up and maybe we can sneak a top two, but realistically we’re probably looking at the play-offs now.
“I don’t know how long it will take me to get up to speed. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.
“I want to help the boys win promotion. I said that when I first came to the club. It’s still the aim – whether I play one minute or more.”
Forster-Caskey was a key component of Lee Bowyer’s side before seeing his 2018-19 campaign wrecked.
And Bowyer had told the South London Press back in October that he definitely wanted to keep the midfielder, who is out of contract at the end of June.
“It’s a bit of a difficult one,” said Forster-Caskey. “I’m a player that’s been injured and then there is the current situation where the club is in terms of its league position. I don’t think people quite know where they are going to be next year.
“When it comes to me, I haven’t been offered a contract. I would like to extend my time at Charlton. I’ve loved every minute and I feel at home.
“I want to get back and give even more back to the fans. Since this injury, they have really stood behind me.
“I want to play for the club but at the end of the day I haven’t had a decision to make yet, because nothing has been offered.”
The former England U21 international has produced some of the best football of his career in SE7.
“I think sometimes it just clicks at certain clubs,” said Forster-Caskey. “Sometimes they feel like home and sometimes they don’t. From day one here the fans were brilliant towards me.
“I haven’t got an answer for why that is. I just love playing at The Valley – it’s an amazing stadium. This is a great club to play for.”
Bowyer has sounded a cautionary note about Forster-Caskey’s schedule – pointing out that Billy Clarke was in the same kind of situation.
Clarke struggled for meaningful minutes on his return from knee surgery and was allowed to join Bradford City at the end of January.
“Jake has been a big miss,” said Bowyer. “He is a very good player. He knows I like him a lot. I always speak highly of Jake. He has got a great attitude and he is a winner. He’s definitely good to have around the place.
“In terms of time, he has got enough to come back and potentially play. But he has been out the whole season and it’s like with Billy – it’s whether he is ready. You can run all you like but it is about being up to speed.
“He understands that, we’ve had that conversation.
“He’ll have to play two or three U23 games before he starts getting properly involved with us.
“Hopefully he comes back okay. I’d love to have him amongst the squad at the back end of the season.”