David Nugent: 'I recovered in record time - so can Wayne'

David Nugent broke his metatarsal and thought his season was over - but he was back playing again after just six weeks and five days and hopes to lead Preston to the Premiership. He talks to Sam Wallace
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The Independent Online

If Wayne Rooney needs encouragement that he can make the World Cup finals, then it can be found in the story of David Nugent. The Preston North End striker broke the fifth metatarsal of his right foot against Ipswich Town on 14 March, but on Sunday - six weeks and five days later - he made a substitute appearance against Leeds United. His injury had healed completely.

On Friday he will play for Preston in the play-off semi-final first leg against Leeds - seven weeks and three days after sustaining the injury - having originally been told that his season was over. If Rooney recovers from his metatarsal injury at the same speed, he should be back in time to play Sweden in the final Group B game on 20 June.

The specialists have proclaimed Nugent's recovery a medical record. For the 21-year-old himself - the Football League's young player of the year this season - his comeback has been a combination of patience, hard work in the gym, a holiday with his girlfriend in Cyprus and a little machine called the Exogen bone-healing system.

This is his story:

I'm from Huyton in Liverpool, same as Steven Gerrard, and I played against Rooney when I was a kid. He was at Everton's academy and I was at Liverpool's although I'm a Blue through and through. What happened to him was devastating - especially for a young player of Rooney's ability and him knowing that he might miss the World Cup. Hope-fully, he might see this in the paper, that I have recovered and it may give him a bit of belief that he could do the same as well. On the day I broke my metatarsal I had already scored two goals when I threw myself at a cross from Chris Sedgwick. He hit it in fast, I went flying for the ball and lost my feet a little bit. All the pressure has gone on to my right-hand side and I felt something go. I tried standing up and fell over again.

At first I couldn't really feel it, then there was a sharp pain shooting up my leg. I thought that I had just tweaked my toe. I stood up, tried to walk and then I felt the real pain. I didn't feel like I could carry on. I told the physio Andy Balderston 'I can't feel my little toe'.

He said: 'You've broken it.' It was the fifth metatarsal - the worst one to do. I immediately thought that my season was over.

They iced it up and took some pressure off it, let the swelling go down and after the match I went to the Royal Preston Hospital. We did an X-ray and that showed it was broken. I was devastated. It was a proper break, you could see clearly where it was cracked.

They put me in a cast, just so I could get home. The next day I went to get a proper cast and I was in that before the operation four days later. The surgeon, John Hodgkinson, was unbelievable. He's the top man and he did an excellent job on my foot. I owe him. They opened my foot up and inserted a screw into the break to support it. It makes the foot bleed and the blood pumps around the foot better. They told me it would make me recover better.

After the operation they said I would be out for eight to 12 weeks and the season would be over by then. When I look back, what has happened since then is unbelievable.

They gave me a big air boot to wear that I could put on and off. You pump air into it just to get the pressure right so it doesn't hurt. And I went to Cyprus for a holiday with my girlfriend, Hannah. I could go in the water, the surgeon said that. I had the boot to help me walk around. The surgeon told me to start putting pressure on it because it would help.

I thought I would be in pain for two weeks but although they had given me some painkillers I only ever took one - after the operation. I didn't need any after that and I thought that was strange. I knew it was getting better but I didn't think it would get better so quickly.

On holiday I was using my Exogen set about twice a day for 20 minutes at a time. It's a little ultrasound machine that you put on the break. It just helps the bone to heal quicker. I'm still using it now. The physio said keep using it - you never know that might be the thing that is keeping you going.

When I came back from holiday I had a second X-ray, almost two weeks exactly since I did the injury - it showed that the bone was growing back already. They said to take the boot off and try to walk on my foot normally. It felt weird walking on it again because I had no muscle in my leg. My leg was like a twig, my right side had just wasted away.

As soon as I started walking again I was back in the gym doing weights on my upper body for about five days. After three weeks I was back on the bike, just getting my legs used to the work again. I would have a little walk on the treadmill just to get used to it. I still had a bit of a limp. I was just trying to get used to the walking motion again, to get the symmetry right.

I built up into a jog on the treadmill and was swimming a lot against the flume. After the fourth week I was thinking 'I'm going to be ready' but Andy the physio didn't want to take any chances with me kicking the ball. I was in the gym and getting really angry because I wanted to work with the ball. But Andy, he's the man - you've got to do what he says.

It all paid off. After four weeks and three days I just wanted to go out on the grass and get used to wearing my boots again. Andy brought some balls out and I said: 'What are they for?' I was a bit wary but once I had my first touch doing little side-foot volleys I thought 'Yeah, I'm coming back'.

On Friday I had an X-ray at 10.30am but I couldn't see Mr Hodgkinson until 4pm. I went with Andy to the hospital to have it done and it showed that the break had filled up. We went to see the surgeon at Wrightington hospital. He put the X-ray on the light board and straight away he said 'It's healed'. I wanted to jump around the room but I knew I shouldn't.

The surgeon couldn't really believe it that I had healed so quickly. Maybe it is because I am young and a quick healer. The Exogen set helped, too. It was unbelievable to be named in the squad on Saturday and the Preston fans were fantastic. I am just happy to be back, I thought my season was over but now we're in the play-offs. It was so horrible getting beaten in the final by West Ham last year, hopefully this time we'll do it.

Recovering from a metatarsal injury can be done, you just have to do the right things and listen to the surgeon and your physio. Just don't do anything stupid either.

I'm an England fan too - I just hope Wayne will be all right for the World Cup.

Forward without Rooney: Expert opinions on how England must play

* CRAIG BROWN (TV/radio summariser, former Scotland manager)

I know how Sven must be feeling - the same happened to me before the 1998 finals with my captain, Gary McAllister. I didn't list him because there was no chance of his playing. I'd take Rooney in the hope he is ready for the later stages. David Nugent, the Preston striker, came on as substitute on Sunday six weeks and five days after breaking a metatarsal, so there's hope. As for how England might play in the absence of Rooney and possibly Owen, I would use Peter Crouch up front rather than Jermain Defoe, who I don't think is good enough, and have Joe Cole just behind. The way Cole played for Chelsea against Manchester United, he's suited to the position. Steven Gerrard has played in that role for Liverpool but he's more use to England in midfield.

* GARTH CROOKS (BBC TV pundit and former Tottenham striker)

What's happening with Rooney and Owen is the nightmare scenario. If one or both don't make it, it puts the responsibility and hopes of the nation on two relatively inexperienced strikers. Eriksson will have to plop them into a pressure cooker and they'll have no choice but to cope. It makes the B international against Belarus and England's friendlies against Hungary and Jamaica even more critical. Eriksson will have to scrutinise those players as closely as a trainer preparing a horse for the Derby. The situation may also put the onus on Joe Cole playing off the front; England have to throw him into that situation in the warm-up games, then make an assessment. History shows the absence of Rooney and/or Owen would be an opportunity for someone else to break through.

* GRAEME LE SAUX (Former England defender, Independent columnist)

First of all, if there is a chance of Wayne Rooney being fit then you have to take him. If, eventually, he isn't fit then you have to try to compensate for his loss by putting the responsibility for his creative role on a couple of other players. I would choose Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. We are blessed with a lot of creative midfielders so I would ask one of those two to occupy the space behind Michael Owen and link the midfield and the attack. There has been a lot of talk about bringing Michael Carrick into a holding midfield role and he is ready at that level. That would free up one of the other two. Although he has had an excellent season, my only question over Carrick would be whether he is defensively strong enough to play in the holding role. The main problem, however, is to make sure we try to generate the creativity Rooney usually offers. The right man to play behind Owen is Gerrard.

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