Sydney FC’s Jason Culina says he will be emotional when called into action on Friday after a two-year campaign to rebuild his damaged body.
The former Socceroos midfielder has not appeared since breaking down with a knee injury while playing for Gold Coast at the end of the 2010/11 season.
Culina underwent two bouts of surgery and an aborted comeback with Newcastle before signing with Sydney in the off-season and continuing an exhausting and painful rehabilitation program.
His time has finally come, with the 32-year-old to be used off the bench when struggling Sydney host Adelaide at Allianz Stadium on Friday.
“I had nothing else I could possibly do. Football is the one thing I love,” Culina said on Thursday when asked what kept him going.
“I’ve been a fulltime professional since I was 16. You grow accustomed to doing one thing and when that’s taken away from you then you’re left with nothing.
“It ultimately comes down to how hard you work and how much you want and I wanted it pretty badly.
“It was hard and there were doubts but at the back of my mind I knew I’d make it back.
“I love the game too much to give it up.”
Culina is likely to be introduced at half-time or just after the break as the Sky Blues attempt to end a three-match losing streak at high flying Adelaide’s expense.
He said: “I’ve dreamt about this for the past two years. There will be a few tears. It’s an emotional time for me.
“I will be nervous but once I step over that white line I think instinct kicks back in.
“I have belief and trust in the work I’ve done. If I had doubt I wouldn’t have put my hand up.”
Interim Sydney coach Steve Corica, who endured a similar injury setback during his playing career, knows what Culina has been through.
“I know how hard he’s worked to get himself right,” the coach said.
“People said he wouldn’t play again and he’s going to prove them wrong.
“He could have (retired) and I think it crossed his mind at one stage but it’s testament to him that he’s fought his way back.
“He’s just buzzing around waiting for his chance…you can see it in his face.
“He’s ready for the challenge.”