Nir Bitton’s back after 11 months of tears, fears and frustration at Celtic

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NIR Bitton beams, there is no other word for it, as he bounces, which is again the right description, across the foyer of his team hotel.

“It’s good to see you guys,” says the Israeli to the small but perfectly formed band of Scottish newspaper men. It looks like he almost means it as he sakes us all warmly by the hand.

Bitton is back. At long last. After eleven months of tears, fears and a realisation of what is really important in his life following a knee injury he believed was minor but in fact it had him thinking that he’d kicked a ball for the last time.

Even press duties, which was never were his favourite way to spend half an hour, are now a treat.

Celtic supporters may have forgotten how good a player the midfielder is when fit, which he wasn’t long before he decided to get to the bottom of his problem. His return is a welcome boost.

Bitton has been through a lot over the past year but is has been training again and while the sharpness isn’t there, he will be, as Brendan Rodgers said, like a new signing when he does get back to full fitness.

“I feel I’ve just started my career now,” Bitton says, unable to keep the smile from his face. “It’s been a long time, eleven months, and when you are out for that time you realise that you have to appreciate every minute you spend on the pitch.

“I remember I had a meeting with a specialist guy in London and I went there not even thinking about the possibility of a serious injury or surgery. I thought I was just going for his opinion on how to get rid of the swelling and stuff.

“And then he looked at my scan and said, ‘you need to be out for nine to 12 months.’

“I started to cry. I phoned my wife straight away and said to her, ‘I think you need to look for a job, I’m finished. I cried and I couldn’t control it. For me this is the thing I like to do most.

“People on the outside might not understand that. But to us playing football is everything and when you are not playing sometimes at least you are healthy.

“You sit there watching your teammates doing well, winning games and trophies and you know you are not part of it and can’t do anything about it. You need to be mentally strong.

‘You need to focus on your rehab and get your session done. ‘It’s been a really tough time.”

Bitton was of course in the best of hands in terms of the knee. But what happens in the head is not so easily treated.

He’s a hard man to read is the 27-year-old but he didn’t hold back when describing how difficult it was to cope with being out and with months still to go of his rehabilitation.

He admitted: “Physically it was tough but mentally it was an even bigger challenge. It’s the first long term injury and you don’t know what to expect.

“You don’t know what challenges lie in wait and there are so many mental things going on behind the scenes. You just try to stay focussed and stay calm and surround yourself with good people who always support you whatever it takes.”

Did he really think his career was over?

“Well….you always have these thoughts when you get a long-term injury. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know what you are getting into. But I had good medical staff at Celtic who supported me and guided me.

“The surgeon was good. We had a few meetings with him through the rehab and he was always very positive.

“Put the money aside and this is what we love to do most. You can ask any athlete you like. When you finish your career it’s not the same. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn or how many big houses you have or how good a life you live.

“When you can’t do something you like it’s just depressing and it makes you think the worst. A lot of people from the outside look and think, ‘ah they earn good money, they have a great life…

“Sometimes it’s not like that.”

Bitton believes he will return a better player and he is also a better person after a year which forced him to do a bit of thinking about life itself.

It will be interesting to see how these manifests itself on the park but what’s clear is that his outlook on the world has been changed.

Bitton said: “Of course. Before I got this injury and felt like this I would see people hurt themselves or get sick and injured and if I’m honest I didn’t think too much about it. You feel sorry for them of course. But you don’t really feel it.

“It’s only when you get something like this yourself that you see that these other people are warriors. Around Christmas time we as players always go to hospital to see the children lying there fighting for their life. I appreciate now that these kids are the strongest people in the world.

“After this injury I start to appreciate the small things in life now .I see these boys and girls there unwell and I appreciate life itself. In one second you can lose everything and it won’t come back.

“These guys, for me, are an inspiration. They should be an inspiration to everyone.”

Bitton has a two-year-old daughter Alice and son Tom is only a few months old. And now they will get the chance to see their old man kick a football.

He said: “Getting back on the pitch will be emotional for me, it will be emotional for my family. They have been part of it with me and suffered a lot in the first few months.

‘I appreciate all their help and they deserve it. My two year old daughter Emma is too young to understand it all now.

‘But she is starting to realise. She has watched a few Celtic games this season and I have a neighbour called Tom Rogic so she watches him on television and she’s like ‘goal, goal….

“She will be excited to see her daddy playing on the pitch and I want to make her proud….I better go now because I’m going to cry again.”