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Having begun the season as Newcastle United's most senior central defender, Dabizas could have been forgiven for thinking his luck had changed for the better.

Exactly 12 months earlier, the likeable Greek must have thought his time in Tyneside was up - discarded by Ruud Gullit after some disappointing pre-season displays and out of the first team picture.

But the arrival of Bobby Robson signalled an upturn in fortunes - until last August that is.

The Magpies were playing only their second game of the season, hosting Derby County at the new-look 52,000 St James' Park, when Dabizas damaged knee ligaments that saw him sidelined for six months.

"It's been frustrating for me these last six months," admitted Dabizas as he finally prepared to return to training.

"It's so much different from anything else I've ever been used to. Being away from the game is hard, but it's in the past now and I think I've returned stronger both mentally and physically.

"I don't remember much about how the injury happened. It was early on in the game. I played on because we didn't realise how bad it was at first, but after about 40 minutes I realised I couldn't go on because I could feel no stability in my knee.

"It was only afterwards that I began to think it could be something much worse, and damaging your knee ligaments is one of the worst injuries you can have in professional football."

After having the knee examined by specialists, Dabizas and United were advised that an operation was the only answer.

However, despite the prospect of a long lay-off, Dabizas was determined his season wouldn't end before it had even begun.

He added: "I never thought that was the case, I always thought I could make it back and take some part in the final matches.

"I knew I had to work hard to get back and wouldn't let myself be affected by the injury."

Dabizas actually went under the knife in his native Greece, and most of his rehabilitation took place in his homeland - something he believes was beneficial to both him and United.

"One of the good things for me was that my previous club Olympiakos allowed me to do my rehabilitation work there," he explained.

"That pleased me because it meant I was in a familiar atmosphere where the weather was always good, which also helps. It was similar for Ronaldo, I think, because he did his rehabilitation back in Rio.

"I think it was a good decision, and the medical staff at Newcastle were very happy with me when I came back."

It was a long and gruelling rehabilitation program that Dabizas underwent. "Lots of running and lots of weights," according to the man himself.

"I learned a lot of lessons in my time out injured," Dabizas reflects.

"When you are involved in football you tend to see it as a routine and maybe you don't always appreciate it - but as soon as you are out for such a long time you realise just what you are missing, so I'm glad the injury is now behind me.

"I was kept in touch with what was happening at Newcastle by watching games on television in Greece.

"It helped keep me going because it made me realise that was what I had to look forward to - I kept saying to myself 'this is for your benefit Nicos' when I was working hard in my rehabilitation.

"If you are a weak character then you will find a long injury hard to deal with, but I think I have come through all of this a stronger person.

"I was talking to the Newcastle physios at least once a week all the time I was in Greece, letting them know how my fitness was coming along and at the same time keeping in touch with what was happening at the club.

"It was as though my body was in Greece but my mind was with Newcastle.

"Now though I am back and want to be playing again this season.

"Since I came back there are some new faces and some others have left, but the club is still the same and it is great to be back in the environment of the dressing room and the training ground.

"We have been very very unlucky with all the injuries we have had this season. It's been extraordinary, but we're fortunate we have such an experienced manager who has been able to see us though a difficult situation.

"But when something bad happens, you have to keep fighting and hope that it all works out better in the end."

And if this season does prove to have a happy ending for Nicos Dabizas, then few could argue.



232 Appearances in England (175 for Newcastle United, 18 for Leicester in the Premier League and 39 for Leicester in the Championship). Total League-Cup-Europe appearances 550. National Team appearances 70. Goals total 40.