Dave Jones has never been the type of manager to let emotion govern selection, but even the Cardiff City cynic might allow a bit of the old Cup magic to rub off on his teamsheet for today's quarter-final against Middlesbrough. Some things are meant to be, and Riccardo Scimeca and Wembley does indeed seem like a tearjerker waiting to happen.
Eight months ago, the former Aston Villa midfielder feared he would not play professionally again after a routine operation for a groin injury left him with the MRSA virus. Indeed, he was still acquainting himself with the prospect of a life without boots even a few weeks ago. "It's been tough, so tough," said the 32-year old on Friday. "I did wonder, 'Am I going to play again?' There were times when it was hard to get out of bed."
Blessedly, the sheets have at last been thrown aside, and following an hour against Crystal Palace in which he gave Cardiff the physicality they have been missing of late, he looks certain to feature at the Riverside this lunchtime. The Bluebirds have been waiting 81 years to return to Wembley, and in Scimeca they have the man with the drive to take them there.
"You know, you don't get many chances to play at Wembley, and in terms of this club it's the biggest game since 1927," said the Midlander. "This year it is a huge incentive considering how the draw is panning out. There are just four clubs left in there from the Premiership, so if we can knock out one more of these, then you just never know. I'd love to return there, even if it was 'just' for a semi-final."
While the Welsh club have not been to Wembley since their famous year when they renamed the English Cup the FA Cup, Scimeca was involved in another– albeit rather less momentous – final there 12 years ago. "Yeah, that was the League Cup final for Villa," he said. "It was a brilliant day, as we went there and beat Leeds 3-0. I think I'm ready for another trip there now."
That would be extra-special, as even a journey to the corner shop seemed beyond Scimeca during the worst of his illness. When Jones watched Scimeca last just 12 minutes in a reserve game, he feared he had lost his midfield enforcer for good, and now acknowledges that only the player's ceaseless desire made the comeback possible.
"It was as almost as if somebody had stuck two electric rods into my pelvic area," said Scim-eca, recalling the lump the size of a tennis ball that appeared next to his groin at Christmas. "I spent two days in bed doing absolutely nothing – I couldn't walk. Negative thoughts did enter my head, they were bound to. I'd had four operations since July and contracted two infections. I said to myself, 'Is this going to be it?' When you're lying there, you do think about your future, about what you're going to do, but you battle on because you want to play this game as long as you can. It's chances like this, going to Wembley, that kept me going, made me get up in the morning when I felt like hell.
"It's funny, but when you get older you realise the opportunities to feature in big occasions get fewer and fewer. When they present themselves you just need to grab them, I'm almost pinching myself at being back and able to play in such a huge game. Even if Dave just puts me on the bench I'll be thrilled."
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