AMID all the talk of Christmas and the impending unwrapping of presents, Leeds United captain Liam Bridcutt this week probably received the best gift that he could have wished for, 12 days early.
It came when he ended his injury torment on Tuesday evening by making his first appearance in exactly three months from the substitutes’ bench for United in their fine 2-0 win over his hometown club Reading. Never mind Christmas Day.
Given all the endless goodwill shown following Leeds’s wholesome victory over the Royals, the return of Bridcutt – albeit in circumstances that he probably would have preferred to be different, with his entrance coming as Chris Wood left the fray with a hamstring problem – was maybe downplayed slightly on a night of plentiful positives.
For the player himself, who turns 28 next summer, it was of major significance with his receiving of the captain’s armband from Kyle Bartley shortly after coming on in the first half being a particularly cathartic moment.
After signing permanently from Sunderland in mid-August amid a fair bit of fanfare after what seemed like an endless close-season saga, the fact that Bridcutt has been stymied by a foot problem – and some other ailments besides – has represented cruel fortune in the extreme.
It further tested the resolve and mentality of someone who had previously endured tough times on the football front by virtue of a hugely fraught time at the Stadium of Light where he fell off the radar following the sacking of the man who signed him in Gus Poyet.
After being named as United’s new captain on September 9 following Sol Bamba’s departure, picking up a subsequent injury two games into his tenure was an untimely blow that Bridcutt needed like a hole in the head.
But the combative midfielder is thankfully made of the right stuff and has come through the other side following the endless grind of rehabilitation, even if he is the first to admit that he had some low moments back in mid-autumn.
Bridcutt, ready, willing and able if called upon to step up his comeback further against Brentford this afternoon, told The Yorkshire Post: “This is the longest period I have been out in terms of injury.
“I have never been out as long and it was a learning curve for me on Tuesday and these last few months really.
“I had 10 weeks out with a fractured foot and then an operation on my knee and pulled my calf within that time as well.
“It was a bit of a tough one. I have thankfully come out on the other side.
“It was difficult for me and all I knew was that I had to keep focus and know I was going to get back fit.
“It was hard at times. In the first month, it was not too bad and I was getting through it quite easily.
“But after a month, you kind of hit a wall and every day becomes a struggle of just getting up knowing you are not going to be playing football straightaway.
“It was frustrating whilepain-wise, you were having to manage it and stuff like that.”
Dealing with an unwanted and additional dose of frustration so quickly after his rough time on the North Sea coast at Sunderland – where he was frozen out under first Dick Advocaat and then Sam Allardyce – would have been particularly burdensome for most players.
But Bridcutt clearly is a tougher cookie than most, perhaps hardened mentally by his experiences on Wearside. He added: “It is a different frustration. Injuries are one of those things you can’t help.
“Obviously, the Sunderland situation was difficult and there was a lot of politics and people’s opinions. That is how football goes sometimes.
“It helps when you are mentally strong. Obviously with everything I went through at Sunderland, I don’t think there is a lot more I probably could go through really. But I am past that now and looking forward.”
Back doing his day job at a club with which he has gone on record as stating that he feels “connected”, clearly means everything to Bridcutt, whose return on Tuesday drew raucous applause from the United faithful.
Sampling that winning feeling is also likely to have proved invigorating for the midfield anchor – more especially after missing out on that during United’s autumnal joyride that has harkened back to more pleasurable times.
During his absence, Leeds have been afforded stellar moments against the likes of Norwich City and Aston Villa and sampled a cup occasion to savour at Anfield, among other things.
Bridcutt would not be human if he was not pained by the fact that he was not able to be out there during those intoxicating episodes when Leeds roared out their collective defiance and pride – on the pitch and in the stands – and announced to the wider footballing fraternity that the club were on their way back.
That represents the bigger picture, according to Bridcutt, even if watching on from the stands can be onerous at times. He added: “I did come and watch a few games and it was difficult for me and I do find it hard actually watching football when I am injured. It does frustrate me and probably puts a downer on me. But everyone deals with these situations differently.
“But I am happy for the lads with the way things have been going and it could not have gone any better. In that sense, that has made my injury that little bit easier to deal with – knowing we are doing well and heading in the right direction.”