Joe Allen grimly knew he was set for a long spell on the sidelines.
Stoke City’s vice-captain and key man ruptured an Achilles tendon when he stumbled over grounded Dan Batty in the second before half-time of Saturday’s 5-1 win over Hull.
He got back up and limped a few steps before Hull’s Leonardo da Silva Lopes put his arms around him and helped him to the ground. The whistle had gone and Stoke’s medical team ran on.
It seemed so innocuous that most in the bet365 Stadium carried on with the interval as normal until it became obvious this was no mere knock. Allen was strapped into a stretcher and wheeled away down the tunnel.
He underwent surgery on Monday morning to repair the damage.
The 29-year-old will miss the rest of the season and Euro 2020.
That is a bitter pill for a player who has helped Michael O’Neill make such strides towards Championship safety from such a difficult position; a player who was in the Euro 2016 team of the tournament, alongside Toni Kroos in midfield, behind Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But how long will it be before he can play again?
There is hope in the Allen camp – and everywhere – that if there are no complications and rehab goes well he could be fit to join in pre-season.
But the pain from this kind of injury, say those who have suffered it, is excruciating. The rehab is hard and there are wide variances from player to player, normally depending on whether the tendon is ruptured or torn completely or partially.
Former Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor, who was out for nearly seven months with that problem in 2011 and six months in 2015, said: “I couldn’t understand it. I thought it was my calf muscle and I bent down to feel it.
“Then I noticed that my foot wasn’t right. It was floppy but there was no pain. I tried to walk but my foot just wouldn’t work.
“I checked my boot to see if any of the studs had come out but they were all there. All the time my foot was flopping inside my boot, independent from my ankle and out of my control. I knew something wasn’t right – I just didn’t know how bad it was.”
Callum Hudson-Odoi suffered a ruptured Achilles in April last year and was back playing for Chelsea in September, pretty much five months to the day.
David Beckham was out for six months in 2010 after rupturing an Achilles on loan at AC Milan. At the age of 35, he made his comeback for LA Galaxy and said: “I’ve never been out of the game for such a long time. It’s been a quick recovery and I’m happy with that. I thought I was ready for 90 minutes four months ago but after 10 minutes on the field, I felt like I was dying.”
Ruben Loftus-Cheek ruptured his Achilles in a friendly against New England Revolution last May and was only able to play again for Chelsea’s under-23s side last month.
Laurent Koscielny missed France’s World Cup win after rupturing his Achilles in a Champions League semi-final for Arsenal against Atletico Madrid in May 2018. At 32, he was back playing in December, starting with an appearance in the EFL Trophy.
He said: “Sometimes in life we are focused on small things and it can’t be good for you. I learned about my life, about the people around me. It’s a difficult experience but I loved it because sometimes your eyes are opened more than before.
“When you don’t have the injury, it’s difficult to know about this situation. When you do have it, you grow up as a footballer but also as a man. You fight with yourself because you are a competitor and you want to come back to your level or maybe even more. I did this over seven months and I continue to fight.
“It’s not about my age or my injury, it’s because you want to win everything when you are a competitor. It was a big challenge for me to fight against my injury and I think I did well.”
Most athletes are normally back up and running between four and six months after surgery.
And Stoke and Wales can count on Allen’s discipline and determination to do everything in his own power to will his body along.
Stoke fans have been sending messages in hope that he will be back sooner rather than later.
Jimmy Poisson: Great player, captain and all round human being. Get well soon Joe.
Joy Mycock: Absolutely gutted for you Joe. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.
Matt Lewis: Wishing the best of luck to you Joe in your recovery and hope you’re back soon. You’ll be back stronger.
Sheree Adams: Speedy recovery Joe… player of the season. Can you still be present at the games to back the lads?
Ernie Greenaway: He has been a very loyal player for us and I am absolutely gutted for him I hope him a speedy recovery.
Wendy Cotton: Hope you have a speedy recovery. Absolutely gutted. You have been outstanding for the club and we can’t wait to see you back.
Steven Jervis: Good luck Joe, I did mine in 1994 back playing cricket following season.
Jackie Greatbatch: Wishing Joe a speedy recovery.
Neil Burke: Devastated for you Joe. You have been tremendous this last few months when we have needed you most. Wishing you a speedy recovery.
Keri Green: Absolutely gutted, get back as soon as you can.