Mateo Kovačić is still working towards regaining full fitness after sustaining a right adductor tendon strain against Apoel of Nicosia in September.
Although he’s still largely working in the gym and is on the training pitch for rehab sessions only, Mateo will now be approaching the stage where a return to fitness date will be well within his sights.
It will be difficult for him at the moment. So many other players who were injured around the same time as Mateo was - including Jesús Vallejo and Marcelo - have now managed to get back into full training and playing.
As the group of injured players at the club changes frequently it must be hard for him to keep his spirits up.
I know it’s been mentioned before, but it’s often the case that for a player with a longer-term injury it can be hard going coming to the club day in and day out without having any chance of a game at the end of the week.
Sometimes it can seem like you are forgotten unless you are likely to be involved in the next match.
We’re now almost into the month of November; which is when Real Madrid’s medical team initially predicted Mateo would return to training and it appears that he is continuing to make progress.
It’s been a long time out for the popular Croatian midfielder who joined Real Madrid from Inter Milan in 2015.
His presence has been missed since he sustained the injury in that Champions League game, and as often happens with medium to longer term injuries, it didn’t seem to be too serious at the time.
However, the injury also forced Mateo to miss Croatia’s recent World Cup qualifiers against Finland and the Ukraine; leaving team mate Luka Modrić as the only Real Madrid player in the side. So instead of continuing their usual pairing at international level, Mateo had to remain in Madrid for treatment.
Real Madrid were quick to issue a statement at the time explaining that Mateo had suffered a partial tear of the tendon of the adductor muscle in the right leg.
A partial tear of an adductor muscle is usually caused by over-stretching for a ball with the leg extended sideways or by ‘doing the splits’ on a wet surface. However, any movements that involve stressing the muscles of the inside of the leg can lead to injury.
Injuries to the adductor muscles can occur either through a single movement or as a combination of movements; such as attempting to push off in a different direction for example, or by making a sharp twist or turn where the foot slips at the same time.
Injuries like these are a problem in football because the recovery has to be virtually to 100% because of the twisting and turning involved; simply because the adductor muscles are stressed the most on sideways and zig-zagging movements.
So even though players recovering from adductor injuries can often be seen running in straight lines at a fair speed during the rehab training sessions, there’s a considerable difference between being able to do that comfortably and changing to the sideways or cutting movements required in open play.
It’s for that reason that players recovering from groin / adductor issues often look to be further on in their rehab programmes than they actually are; but at the same time are nowhere near being functionally fit enough to play.
If Mateo’s recovery has appeared to take a long time, then based on the above the reality is that he’s probably well on target given Real Madrid’s initial estimate of sometime in November.
Zinedine Zidane has even said that although Mateo is recovering well he still needs a little more time; and to date, no specific match has been targeted for his return. That’s the safest bet; but it’s always when a result has gone against you that everybody starts asking how far away the injured players are from making a return.
Zinedine Zidane’s going to have to deal with more and more questions of that nature over the next week or so; especially with Raphaël Varane now injured again following the match against Girona.
Although it won’t have gone unnoticed that both Keylor Navas and Dani Carvajal are reported to be making progress with their recovery from injury and illness respectively, media interest will be likely be on Gareth Bale with Tottenham at Wembley next up in the Champions League.
As on the field focus shifts from the defeat at Girona to the European ties once again, there will be even more questions for Zidane to answer in the days to come.
In the meantime, Mateo Kovačić will continue to train and exercise. He’ll go through the daily routine in the same low-key and conscientious manner that’s been typical of his approach to treatment and rehabilitation during these last few weeks.
Hopefully his hard work will pay off and a return to the squad won’t be too far away.