Culina hungry for comeback

It’s been a long time coming but Jason Culina expects to be fit and ready to play football once again this season.

It-s been a long time coming but Jason Culina expects to be fit and ready to play football once again this season.

The former Gold Coast United midfielder has been through the toughest period of his professional life, spending 18 months on the sidelines as he recovers from two major surgeries.

But Culina, 31, says he-s closer than ever to regaining his fitness and is aiming to get back on the pitch in the early part of Hyundai A-League season 2012/13 - he-s just not sure exactly when.

“Whether it-s the first game of the season or the fifth, I-m not sure,” Culina says.

“I can-t put a timeframe on this sort of injury and recovery. You don-t see progress week-to-week; it-s more every couple of weeks, so if I was to say I-d be ready for the first game of the season - I wouldn-t put my money on it but I-d like to be there or thereabouts.”

Australian football has missed Jason Culina in his time out of the game. His experience, vision and ability on the ball were an important part of the national team, and his class lit up the domestic competition during his two seasons with Gold Coast United.

But after his transfer to Newcastle Jets ended so abruptly, Culina found himself dealing with the biggest injury of his career without actually being part of a club.

Instead, he moved back to Sydney and started his recovery with old friend Stan Ivancic, head physiotherapist with Sydney FC.

Recent stories have suggested this means the Sky Blues are in the box seat for the Qantas Socceroo but Culina says he hasn-t committed to any club and isn-t sure where he-ll start playing again.

“I-ve been training with Stan - he used to be my physio at Sydney united back in the day in the old NSL, 15 years ago. When I got back to Sydney he was the one who offered his support. So I-ve been working on my fitness and recovery with him, not actually with Sydney FC.

“I don-t know where I-ll be or what I-ll be doing. At the moment I-m still focused on my rehab. I-m probably a good month or two off actually joining a team and starting training. I-d be looking too far ahead to say I-ll be going here or there.”

The fact that Culina is even in the position to consider a comeback is news that should please all Australian fans, after undergoing two intensive surgeries - the first on his knee, the second an osteotomy, where the leg is broken to change its alignment, which left Culina incapacitated for some time.

“I had a leg brace from the ankle all the way up to the hip for about six-seven weeks. I was couch-bound for a quite a while, so I had plenty of time to catch up on all my TV,” he laughs. “I got sick of it! I didn-t watch TV for two months after that.”

But for an individual whose life is built around football and their physical ability, spending so long unable to train was extremely draining.

“It-s tough,” he admits. “I had two major surgeries and you get through the first one, you think, ‘Well, I-ve done that and it-s gone well- - then you find out you have to do another one.

“Believe me, at times I just felt like throwing in the towel but if it wasn-t for the family, they keep you ticking over - the kids and wife, mother and father and brother.

"Everyone plays their part and you-ve got that one focus to come back and play the game I love. And that's been the biggest positive to get past that mental hurdle.”

There was, of course, also those highly publicised legal issues involving the Jets, the Professional Footballers Association and Football Federation Australia hanging over him as well.

That has since been settled and Culina is eager to move on but he admits the situation just added to the stress.

“Definitely, that was another hurdle that needed to be jumped. It-s not easy when you-re trying to deal with a serious injury and the rehab but also all that other stuff.”

The focus, as always, remained on the slow process of rebuilding his body.

“When you have surgery like that you lose absolutely everything; it-s back to bare bone basically. You-ve got to rebuild the muscles, your muscles don-t work the way they used to, so you-ve got to retrain everything.

“You have to start slowly, you can-t just jump in. It-s tedious things - in the gym, in the pool, walk up the stairs... It-s procedure. But I-m past all that now; I-m out on the park doing some running and it-s going OK.”

As a ball-playing midfielder, Culina-s game was never based solely on physicality but he acknowledges such extensive procedures will affect the way he approaches the game when he does return to competitive football.

“I will have to be a bit cleverer managing myself in the future but I-ve been having a bit of a kick with the ball - and to my surprise, I haven-t lost it! My touch is still pretty good.

“If only I knew then what I know now, five, six, seven years back, about the way you should manage your body and do the strengthening exercises, I would probably be a lot better than I am at the moment.

“But it-s important to manage your training load and your body; it-s about quality rather than quantity for me at the moment.

“As long as you can get your fitness and strength back, your touch and hunger will always be there - and I can tell you now the hunger is definitely there.”

“I-ve missed a good 18 months now and I really do feel it-s been cut too short - I-m only 31 and still have a few years and some good football to offer.”