Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke has explained how he tried his hardest to avoid the surgery on his knee which led to him missing the majority of the Eagles’ first half of the season.
The Belgian had returned from a pre-season setback and featured in Palace’s first four Premier League outings, playing through the pain barrier until his knee eventually caused further problems in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton at the beginning of September.
“I tried to do everything I could to avoid surgery and it didn’t work out,” Benteke told Palace TV during a feature-length documentary charting his 18-week rehabilitation.
“The first time I felt pain in my knee was at the end of last season. I can’t remember if it was a kick or a bad landing. When we came back and I scored [against Halmstads BK] during the pre-season in Sweden, I felt something quite sharp.
“I tried to play through the pain. You can try to play when you can cope with the pain, or you can play through the pain and you can’t give your best or you don’t perform. There would be times when I was on the pitch but I was not 100 per cent fit.
“It got worse and I tried to settle the pain by working in the gym and making [my knee] stronger. It didn’t work out because my knee was swelling and just getting bigger.”
Benteke credits Eagles boss Roy Hodgson for making an effort to check on his progress.
“It was more frustrating because watching the team – if they lose – it was hard because you feel like you are not with them,” he said. “You feel like a fan when you are just behind the TV or in the stands. It was the frustration that you can’t do anything [to help the team].
“The only way I stayed positive was just to work hard, to think about the last stage when you are almost there. I really worked hard and my only focus was on trying to get back to help the lads.
“There is always a positive thing and a negative thing. The negative thing was that I was out but the positive thing was that I was focusing on my body, how I can approach a game, how I can change my game and how I can be better on the pitch.
“I saw him [Hodgson] when I came back from my rehab in France. I saw him and he was concerned about my injury. Obviously he would not be in to see me every day because he is with the other lads because they are fit, they are playing. He was close to me and whenever he had the chance to speak to me he was there. It was nice from him.”
Having missed 22 matches across three competitions, Benteke finally made his comeback as a late substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Watford.
The Eagles’ fortunes have scarcely been great, they now sit just three points above the relegation zone after Saturday’s 4-3 reverse at Liverpool. Perhaps some Palace fans will not see the former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker’s return as a cause for an immediate upturn in form having seen him score just three times since the start of last season – but Benteke wants to ensure the effort made to return to full fitness pays off.
“Now my leg is stronger, more than it was before. I’m excited, I know where I’ve come from and all the work I’ve put in to be here.”