Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla still has no idea when he might play football again after undergoing eight surgeries on his heel, but has vowed to return "at my previous level" eventually.
Cazorla gave details of his troublesome injury recovery to Spanish radio station Onda Cero, saying it took months and several operations for doctors just to figure out what was causing the problem with his Achilles tendon.
Now he's finally hoping the surgeries are behind him, but could still need several more months of rehab to rebuild his leg strength after so much time out.
Cazorla hasn't played since October and underwent an initial operation in December. However, he said it wasn't until recently that doctors discovered that bacteria in the tissue was the cause of the problem.
"The problem that I have had up until now is that the doctors didn't know what problem I had. They operated and operated and the wound kept opening," Cazorla said. "And then I had a problem in my mind because the doctors couldn't give me an explanation.
"And then the doctor found the bacteria, I had to go in for more surgeries, but at least we knew what it was. Now I have to slowly come back to training but the danger of the bacteria has passed."
Cazorla posted a photo on social media on Wednesday showing himself standing on one leg in the gym working on his balance. But he admitted that he's still "a ways away from" lifting weights in the gym, meaning he's likely to miss a large part of next season as well.
"I have no strength in my leg. I am just two weeks out of surgery. I have no muscle mass in my calf, no strength in the tendon, we are still working on getting my Achilles to function again," he said. "I don't want to put any dates on [a return] because then if it takes longer, I feel I would disappoint. I really want to play again and I will work hard to return as soon as possible but the truth is that neither the doctors nor the trainers know when I will be able to return."
Cazorla was missed in Arsenal's central midfield after his injury, with the Gunners falling apart in February and March as they missed out on a Champions League spot for the first time in Arsene Wenger's 21-year reign.
It's been an even tougher time for Cazorla himself, though, as he admitted he started to doubt whether he'd ever play football again.
"Yes, that was the worst," he said. "My thoughts. I would go to the doctor, I would go into surgery, I would wait a while and then go back and they would say that they had to operate again.
"I was worried, I felt like my problem didn't have a solution because they kept doing surgeries. Now I can laugh about it but I really didn't like to have so much surgery and I came to see it as a normal thing. I joked with the nurses and doctors at some point. And they admitted that it is not normally seen, especially with athletes and a case they would not see again for a long time.
"They weren't sure, they at first thought the bacteria had eaten the tendon, the bacteria had reached the bone, that they would have to reconstruct my Achilles tendon, there were all kinds of conversations."
The only bright spot for Cazorla was the fact that Wenger exercised an option to give him a one-year contract extension, giving him more peace of mind as he tackled the lengthy rehab process.
"That has been my salvation after everything that has happened," he said. "That I don't have to worry about where I might be going after a recovery like this one and I am grateful.
"I will be back. Not sure when but I am confident that I will be able to return at my previous level."