Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla insists he remains on course to return to action by January after revealing the horrifying true extent of his long-term battle with a gruesome achilles injury that could have resulted in him losing his leg.
In an interview with Spanish publication Marca published on Friday (3 November), the technically-gifted midfielder, who has not played a single minute of football since a Champions League win over Ludogorets Razgrad in October 2016, spoke of how doctors initially told him to be satisfied if he reached a stage where he could once again walk with his son in the garden.
Cazorla first suffered a blow to his ankle while on international duty with Spain back in 2013 and, having missed six months of the previous season following surgery to correct a ruptured knee ligament, underwent another operation last December.
That was just the start of his torment, however, with a continuing open wound meaning he had to to undergo a further eight procedures in total.
Cazorla contracted gangrene and later travelled back to his native Spain, where it was noted by Dr Mikel Sanchez that he had suffered a bone bruise and a "tremendous infection". He lost eight centimetres of his achilles and was told there was a risk of a blood infection that could have spread and resulted in the amputation of his right leg.
As can be seen in a striking picture centred on Marca's front page, the 32-year-old also required a graft that saw some of the skin from his right forearm - which bears a tattoo with the name of his daughter - transferred onto the back of his heel.
Cazorla's last reconstruction surgery was back in May and he has since undergone antibiotic treatments and begun an "intense rehabilitation programme".
Marca note that a bone edema has threatened to slow the pace of his recovery, although the player, who has been living without his family in a hotel in Salamanca since the summer, is still confident that he will back in the New Year.
"I do not have clearance until January, but I will come back by then," he said.
The severity of Cazorla's injury sparked fears that he could be forced into an early retirement, although earlier this year Arsenal, in a show of faith, exercised their option to extend his expiring contract by a further 12 months to June 2018.
The fact that the former Villarreal and Malaga schemer was left out of Arsenal's Premier League and Europa League squads suggested he would not play at all in 2017 and Arsene Wenger later expressed hope that he could be in a position to return after the busy festive period.
"It's very difficult to predict when he will be available again," the Frenchman said in September. "It's difficult to set a time. Not before Christmas, that's why I didn't involve him in the Europa League but after Christmas I hope he will be available."
Asked if Cazorla would be able to compete again at the highest level, he added: "Yes, but he has not played for almost a year now. He has had a few surgeries so we are always cautious to set a time or date, but overall it looks positive."