Injured Aussie Michael Zullo says he will draw upon the examples of good friends Robbie Kruse and Adam Sarota in his bid to return from his anterior cruciate ligament injury in six months’ time.
Zullo suffered the heartbreaking injury at Utrecht training late last month, which Utrecht confirmed at the time would rule him out of action for between six to nine months.
The injury, which requires a reconstruction, is a significant blow, putting Zullo out of contention for the 2015 Asian Cup and hampering his bid to win a new deal at Utrecht as he enters the final year of his contract.
Zullo spent last season on loan at Adelaide United after falling out of favour at Utrecht, but worked his way back into the first-team frame in pre-season under new boss Rob Alflen prior to the injury.
Speaking to FourFourTwo for the first time since being sidelined, Zullo admitted the first few days after sustaining the injury were “horrible,” but said he had accepted his fate now and is focused on his rehabilitation and returning as soon as possible.
“They always say six to nine months but you can’t push it - you have to be diligent with it,” Zullo said.
“I’ve seen a few of my best mates go through it, with Robbie Kruse and Adam Sarota, so I know what’s ahead of me.
“I’m going to aim for six months and hopefully I can salvage something out of the season.”
Zullo is aiming to get the operation done within the next fortnight and wants to follow ex-Brisbane Roar team-mate Kruse’s example by returning to action within seven months of the injury.
While Kruse returned to playing last week in pre-season for Bayer Leverkusen after suffering the injury in January, Zullo’s Utrecht and Australia team-mate Sarota suffered an ACL injury in January 2013 and returned 11 months later.
Zullo said initial indications showed the damage he’d suffered could allow him an earlier return date.
“Without knowing the full details of Robbie’s, our injuries are pretty similar,” Zullo said. “As these things go, obviously they are never good, but it’s a best case scenario in this case.
“Luckily when I did my knee there was no other damage around the knee. There was no cartilage damage, or medial posterior ligament damage. The meniscus is intact as well.”
He added: “I speak to Adam every day and Robbie often. I’ve asked them a lot of questions about what they went through and what to expect.
“They are walking examples that these days this kind of operation isn’t what it used to be. It’s such a common injury in football, there’s a lot of research done on it.
“It should be hopefully a straight forward rehab and hopefully I can play a few games by the end of the season.”
The 25-year-old Utrecht left-back has tried to push contract talk out of mind preferring to focus on his recovery.
Zullo said he wouldn’t rush back ahead of time simply to enhance his chances of winning a new deal, rather preferring to focus on his long-term future.
“I think I can play for a long time,” he said. “That’s why I need to focus on getting this absolutely perfect, so I can play for another 10 years or so.”
Despite his positive attitude, it is obvious the blow is still raw in Zullo’s mind.
“It’s every footballer’s worst nightmare to get a serious injury in the last year of their contract,” Zullo said.
“Everything was going really well before it happened. I was in a good state of mind so it’s disappointing. I was gearing up to have a big season because I was the senior left-back in the squad.
“The coach put a lot of faith in me at the start of the pre-season. I was really enjoying my football before it happened so it’s pretty disappointing but I’m staying as positive as possible.”
Zullo continued: “(Missing the Asian Cup) is devastating. I wasn’t part of the World Cup squad which was disappointing.
“Everyone who missed the World Cup eyed the next six months as a challenge to break into the squad for the Asian cup. Something like that is a once-in-a-career event, to play in such a tournament in our home country.
“So, of course, the first few days after you hear the news are horrible. But now I’m in this settled place because I know whatever happens is going to happen and this is my path.”
Zullo is yet to decide if he’ll undergo the operation in the Netherlands or Australia, but he is hoping to determine the best option as soon as possible. His knee has settled down enough to allow him to do some running and lifting in the meantime, to aid his recovery post-surgery.
The Brisbane-born talent also revealed he had made contact with former club Roar about helping his rehabilitation, with a view to spending time in Australia during the recovery process.
“They’ve been very helpful in offering any help that I need,” Zullo said.
“But we’re still waiting to lock in an operation date and location and once that’s confirmed we can lock in a rehab program.”