Florent Cuvelier admits the past nine months have been a mental and physical challenge, writes James Shield.
But, as the Sheffield United midfielder prepares to return from serious injury, he revealed they have tested both his culinary and linguistic skills too.
“When you’re recovering from an operation, at the beginning you pretty much have to stay in bed,” he told The Star. “So I took a few things up to take my mind off things.
“I started to learn cooking but that was a disaster and I had to stop. I tried to cook a steak and it burnt. All the fire alarms went off in the house so my girlfriend said that’s it, finish, no more of that.
“It was no bad thing I suppose because, on top of everything else, I don’t want food poisoning.
“I began to learn Spanish too. I speak English, French and Dutch so I thought why not?
“I think it’s a nice language and I enjoy going there for holidays. During the summer I’ll probably pick it up again.”
Cuvelier, aged 22, has been absent with leave since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee after joining League One rivals Port Vale on loan in January. A former Belgium under-21 international, he elaborated upon his progress at the Redtooth Academy where, after spending long periods confined to the treatment room, medical staff recently gave him the all-clear to start light training again.
Although Cuvelier was in upbeat mood when he discussed his situation earlier this week - “I’ve got so much pent-up energy inside me” - he acknowledged life has not always been easy following that disastrous afternoon at Vale Park.
“Family and friends are so important at times like this. They’re big people to have around.
“My girlfriend’s family have been great and they are over here in England. Mine are back in Belgium but they’ve been brilliant too. They are good people and I’m very fortunate in that regard.
“I speak with mine every day and my dad drives over from Belgium to cheer me up. They live about one and a half hours south of Brussels so it takes him nine hours in total and I can’t begin to say how much I appreciate that.”
“I also talk to my knee which I know sounds a little bit weird,” Cuvelier continued. “And it probably is but I don’t really care.
“I tell it ‘come on, it’s time to start working now.’ I think he’s been listening to me.
“I certainly hope so because I can’t wait to get back out there on the pitch.”
Cuvelier, who started his career with the now defunct R.E. Mouscron before joining Portsmouth’s youth programme in 2008, agreed a long-term contract when he arrived at Bramall Lane from Stoke City last year. Together with Nigel Clough’s predecessor David Weir, United’s then head of football operations John Stephenson was moved to sign the prodigiously talented Walloon following his impressive performances for Walsall where, after making 35 appearances, one observer described him as “potentially the best midfielder in League One.”
The departure of Weir and Stephenson, combined with the perilous predicament United found themselves in when Clough took charge 12 months ago, prevented Cuvelier from making an immediate impact.
But his eye for a pass and accomplished technique mean, when he does receive the all-clear, another quality option will have been added to Clough’s squad.
“I only played a few games for Sheffield United and everything was a bit complicated back then,” Cuvelier said. “I went out on loan and got injured in my first game but that’s behind me. I’m looking forward now.
“I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to show what I can do here.
“The manager, quite rightly, makes the final decision. So all I can do is try to catch his eye in training and be sharp.
“Then, there is nothing more I can do after that.”
“I know a lot of players say they come back stronger and people don’t really believe them. Really, though, it’s true. “When I was running the other day, I felt better and sharper than ever.
“The only trouble is, after not running for so long, you get tight muscles and hamstrings. Stuff like that.
“It’s something you just have to accept, I suppose, and realise it comes with the turf. But, like I say, I’m looking to the future now rather than thinking about what has happened in the past.”
Although Cuvelier will play no part when 10th placed United visit Bradford City tomorrow, he is confident of contributing to their promotion campaign at some point in the not-so-distant future.
“It’s been a long journey. Being injured is something footballers in general hate.
“It’s a mind battle every single day. Being in the gym and having to stay positive.
“I’m fortunate, though, because I’ve had some wonderful physios who have worked so hard to get me back in shape. But I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
“Usually an injury like this is about nine months. I’ve been looking at other players in a similar position and that seems about right.
“Theo Walcott at Arsenal for example. He’s just come back to training and it was in the same amount of time.
“If I can be ready in three weeks then brilliant, I’ll be very happy.
“But I won’t rush. Because you can’t with injuries like this. You don’t take risks.
“It’s happened to me once and so, touch wood, it won’t happen to me again. Because I enjoy my football too much for that.”