This time last year, Malappuram's young football star Arjun Jayaraj was mulling over an offer from Kerala Blasters. A transfer fee had been agreed between Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters and it didn't take long for the player to put pen paper on a deal that took him to the glitz and glamour of the Indian Super League (ISL).
Things then took a shocking turn when Arjun was excluded from the then coach Eelco Schattorie's squad list that was submitted to the league. It was a forced change as the player faced the wrath of an ankle injury and nosedived into what turned out to be a lengthy layoff and a test of endurance.
It was heartbreaking for the 24-year-old who had just taken a big step forward in his football career. "To miss the whole season after just coming on board at a new club is devastating. More than frustration, it was a disappointment that I felt. Such an injury was a first for me in my career. I really wanted to play for Kerala Blasters after signing for them last season so it was disappointing to miss out due to injury," Arjun told Goal.
"I was injured during training. It was a clash. When it happened, we didn't think it was a big one. I did rehab and was close to rejoining the training sessions. Then there was the pain. I took rest and the doctor suggested surgery. That was when it dawned on me that I would miss the whole season," recollected the midfielder.
The former Gokulam Kerala player was close to a return to training when the Coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill. When the country was locked down in March, Arjun's road to full recovery was also blocked. And what needs to be discussed as much as the physical issues due to the injury is the toll it takes on the mind.
"The lockdown period was a big challenge. I missed rehab and had to return home from Kochi. There was no gym so no proper rehab. Hence, I'm late with my recovery. Now I am doing my best at home to follow the programme given to me by the physios.
"Mental strength is crucial during such a long-term layoff. There is no football and practice and I wasn't used to that. There was a period when I was feeling depressed after the surgery. But since then, luckily, I have not had to spend time alone, thanks to my family and friends. The physios I know also supported me and gave me motivation," Arjun revealed.
12 months after signing for the Yellow Army, Arjun is still dreaming of making his debut in front of a large crowd in Kochi. He hopes that moment will come soon. Until then, he has his family, friends, workout sessions and PUBG Mobile to keep him sane.
"It (has been) a challenging experience. Just as I was about to kick a ball around, I had to sit at home. I've been trying to keep myself engaged these days with workout sessions, spending time with family and playing PUBG Mobile with friends.
"Firstly I hope to fully recover from the injury soon. The team has a coach (Kibu Vicuna) and it will be a new system. I want to fight for my chance and I want to play. I have two more years left in my contract and my wish is to play for Kerala Blasters. As it stands, my decision is to stay and hopefully play."