Jimmy Bullard may have experienced some of the darkest days a footballer can go through, but he is a shining example to all players that the dream of representing your country should never go away. The 29-year-old thought his chances of playing for his country had disappeared after he suffered a career-threatening injury back in September 2006; one which kept him on the sidelines for 15 months.
The Fulham midfielder dislocated his kneecap following an innocuous challenge with Newcastle United's Scott Parker, and the initial diagnosis suggested he would be ruled out for six weeks. The injury, however, proved to be far more serious than he first thought, and he was forced to undergo cruciate ligament surgery which kept him on the sidelines for over a year.
It was during that time that Bullard questioned his future in the game, but he refused to give up and fought his way back to full fitness. Bullard played his first competitive match for Fulham back in January, and he played a major role in helping the west London club retain their Premier League status.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed, and coach Fabio Capello made the bold move of calling him into the squad for England's opening 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia. Bullard is desperate to show he can compete on the international stage, and has vowed not to let Capello down if he is chosen to play against the former in Barcelona on Saturday.
"I didn't think my chance was ever gone but maybe faded away. . I am 29 now, you never gave in and it can always happen," Bullard enthused. "There were a few dark times when I was in that gym wondering if I would ever kick a ball again professionally - so to finally get called up for my country is a great honour.
To finally get the call up, I'm overwhelmed. I hope it's inspirational and you should never give in
"There were a lot of tough times going through the injury. You get a lot of dips in rehab. It definitely makes you a stronger person as well as a better footballer. I'm overwhelmed really. Just to get back playing football was the first thing so to get called up was brilliant. I never saw this day coming.
"The FA sent a letter through last week and said I was in contention for the squad. It was a long few days waiting for the final call to see if I was going to make the squad. When I finally got it, it was a madhouse on Sunday. That letter will be framed and on put on the wall somewhere. Every player dreams of playing for their country and being with the squad is brilliant."
Bullard is still having to pinch himself that he is training alongside the likes of David Beckham and Frank Lampard. Although he feels like the new boy at school, Bullard has been helped by the likes of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Jermain Defoe, who he played alongside at West Ham United in the early stages of his career.
"I feel a little like the new boy but it's been fantastic and all the players have been great," he explained. "I was at West Ham with a lot of the boys - Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glenn Johnson and Jermain Defoe. "I was growing in the football game and it was a learning curve for me. I moved on from West Ham and I was developing a lot later than Joe and Rio.
"To finally get here the long way round is great. I speak to Joe and Rio on the pitch and obviously say hello. I have had some good chats with them and talk about old times. It's a good experience for me. .
It's great to be alongside England's best players, playing with them, training with them. You learn a lot
"It's a great honour putting the tracksuit on for the first time. I have looked at it a couple of times and couldn't quite believe it. I am wearing it now and it is a great feeling."
McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor
Austria-France, Argentina-Paraguay and Chile-Brazil are among the matches on the opening round of the McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up and take a shot at winning a fanstastic trip to South Africa 2010.