Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope confident he'll come back better than ever
Nick Pope has suffered more than his fair share of bad luck, but the Burnley goalkeeper has used his time out of the game wisely.
From boarding the plane to Russia last summer and being given the nod to start the Clarets' first tie in Europe for more than half-a-century, Pope's world soon came crashing down around him.
Just 14 minutes in to the game at Pittodrie, where Sean Dyche's side faced Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen in the 'Battle of Britain', an innocuous-looking collision with team-mate James Tarkowski would bare cataclysmic consequences.
A dislocated shoulder, identical to the injury which Tom Heaton had sustained 10 months prior, ultimately forced a 454-day separation from Premier League action.
Pope had featured 35 times in the top flight in 2017/18, keeping 12 clean sheets, as Burnley rejected popular pre-season premonitions to finish seventh, the club's best placing since 1974.
"I got reminded that it was 400 and odd the days the other day," he said. "It was tough, obviously, to go from that high of going to the World Cup and then 14 minutes in to a game, you’re written off for six months.
"It’s something you’ve got to get your head around really quick and look forward and come back better than you were.
"You get told that four months is really the minimum, so I knew it was going to be longer than that. It felt like it was going to be a long one when I did it because it hurt a lot.
"I tried to keep my spirits up as much as possible and the lads were there to help me all along.
"The team spirit that we have here amongst all the players, it really helped me to stay with it. Some days are easier than others and some days you find it really hard. They helped me along with it."
The former Charlton Athletic stopper had square eyes during his absence, sitting in front of the television for hours on end.
But Pope wasn't catching up on box sets or keeping up to date with Coronation Street, he was dissecting replays of his previous performances with a fine tooth comb.
He said: "It gave me time to reflect on things. It was a crazy year getting called up for England and playing for them and then going to a World Cup.
"It all happens without a breath and goes by in the blink of an eye. It gave me time to reflect and that was a big part of my recovery and rehab – looking at how I can become a better player when I do come back.
"That light at the end of the tunnel, you’ve got to strive to play Premier League football again. I just had to look after myself and make sure I was in the best position I could be in.
"I watched nearly all of my games back and looking at things I can do better. I played 35 games that season and think about what gave me that success over the time and what I could take from that and bringing it forward for me.
"I learnt from other goalies, I still watched a lot of football and learn from other people. That’s another thing that helped me along the way and made me believe I would play football again."
And the one-time Clarets' Player of the Year feels that those months of study will serve him well following his return.
Pope, who signed a new long-term contract in May, a deal which will keep him at the club until 2023, was unbeaten as Burnley put three past Southampton on the opening weekend of the season.
"It’s good to be back," Pope said. "To come back like that is really special. The lads have shielded me well in tough conditions, it was difficult to get going in a sense. The lads looked after me really well and I helped them out when I could.
"The injury is in the past now, so I’m glad to get it behind me. I feel better than before. I've got to come back and be better than that season and use it as an experience.
"I start again and that counts for nothing now. Two years is a long time in football, I need to leave it behind me and create new markers this season.
"I think the club and the manager showed they really wanted to keep me. Even throughout whatever interest I might’ve had, they really put a marker down and said they wanted to keep me.
"They’ve done it with more than words by giving me that contract. It was great to receive and concreted what the manager was telling me. I was really happy to sign and extend my stay here."