'He's strong enough to fight back from injury blow'

Linda Moreotsene

Linda Moreotsene

Mamelodi Sundowns player Dillon Sheppard's reputation for being a soldier will see him through this trying time after he broke his leg on Sunday, says club captain Mike Manzini.

Sheppard arrived at the OR Tambo International Airport a day after a pin was inserted into his fractured left leg. He had fallen to the ground on Sunday, screaming in pain after a tackle from Free State Stars' James Matola in the semifinal of the Telkom Knockout in Kimberley.

The incident, which happened in the 19th minute of the match, has now put paid to Sheppard's brilliant comeback - embarked on after sustaining a similar injury last season.

That particular piece of bad luck put the player on the sidelines for seven months last season, and coach Gordon Igesund only started to play him at the end of last season.

He had started to show the class that had taken him to Pananios in Greece and Russia's Dynamo Moscow earlier in his career.

The winger was trying to appear upbeat yesterday, but admitted to being aware of the enormity of the task ahead of him as he tries, yet again, to get back to his peak.

"I am not allowed to do anything with this leg - not even walk - for the next three months. It is going to be difficult, but the main thing is to remain positive.

" I will not entertain the worst things possible, but obviously it is very hard for me and the people close to me," Sheppard said, adding he has not seen the incident on television.

"I was going for the follow-through and I obviously was preparing to shoot and he [Matola] went to block me. I thought he will go the other way, but he did not," he said.

Besides the two recent severe cases, he has not been bothered much by injuries, except for the knee operation he had to undergo while in Russia.

Igesund calls it absolutely unfortunate, and emphasised that his team blames no one for what happened.

"It is unbelievable for someone who just fought himself back into the team to have to go through it all over again. Dillon is a specialist in his position, so it is not going to be easy," Igesund said.

Sundowns are capable of regrouping and using players such as Lerato Chabangu and Elias Ngoepe to fill the gap, but Sheppard is widely experienced, having been in the national under-20 and under-23 teams.

Matola has contacted him, Sheppard said.

"I told him not to worry. Football is like that, and at the end of the day he was playing for his team and fighting for his family," he said.

Sheppard's attitude has also helped Matola to get over the feeling of guilt.

"I just wanted to clear the ball, but my knee got him. I didn't realise that he was hurt badly until they took him to hospital. I tried not to let it affect me. Something like this can make you fear tackling other players, but Dillon has told me it was not my fault," Matola said.

The irony has been that 29-year-old Sheppard had caught the eye of national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira of late, and had been one of the Sundowns players regularly called up to Bafana Bafana.

Sheppard said each one of those call-ups was cherished and was always a big occasion for him. Now, according to team doctor Arnold Human, anything less than nine months on the sidelines will jeopardise the player's full recovery.

Speaking on behalf of his teammates, captain Manzini said the team will miss the width and bite provided by Sheppard because "Sheppy" never shied from battle.

"He is one of the few players whose body language would give me information on what needed to be done on the field - very busy and one of our dead-ball specialists," said Manzini.

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