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It was when Troy Deeney’s temperature hit 39.6 degrees that his partner, Alisha, decided enough was enough and they were going to hospital. He had been feeling rough for a few days in March last year but, as is his way, the Watford captain had battled on.
“I am anti-medication,” he tells Standard Sport. “I try my best. Unless I have to have a painkiller to play football, I won’t take any pills or anything.”
It soon became apparent, though, that this was serious. Once in hospital, and on a drip, his diagnosis was confirmed — Deeney had Covid-19. He spent five days in hospital.
“It riddled my body,” explains the 32-year-old, as he opens up on his ordeal for the first time. “I had kidney problems, lower intestine problems. I was peeing blood as well.
“I actually did an interview with ESPN — while on a drip — through a Zoom call. It went on TV and literally no one noticed other than my missus, because no one knew where I was.
“You could just see the outside of the [drip] bag if you were really looking. I was trying to act like nothing had happened, but I was in a bad way from it and my missus was, too.”
Deeney’s partner was bed-bound for 15 days as she battled with the virus, and their experience is why Deeney was so outspoken about making sure it was safe for football to return last summer.
He knew how dangerous coronavirus could be, and was still feeling the impact months later.
“I thought I had got over it and then during Project Restart someone stood on my toe,” says Deeney. “That happens daily, but my toe was huge. The doctor was saying, ‘You’ve just got nothing, no immune system’.
“I remember having to drive to Lewisham to see this foot specialist who ended up drilling three holes in my foot. My toe was still big so he had to inject me and just take the nail off with a scalpel as I couldn’t walk.
“I am the ‘crack-on-with-everything’ guy. I’ve played games with broken ribs, toes, whatever. I tried to keep training when I came home. I tried to jump on the bike. I did 15 minutes and I was outside throwing up. The missus was asking what’s up and I said, ‘I can’t breathe’. It just wiped me out.”
Hearing what Deeney has been through makes it easy to understand why last May he said he would not initially return to training because he feared for his family’s health. He said he did not want to put his five-month old son “in more danger” and raised concerns over the increased risk to black, Asian and minority ethnic players.
So, why has he not spoken out about his Covid battle until now?
“Honestly, I didn’t want someone to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I didn’t want to turn round and go, ‘I have got it, I have had it’ and be all melodramatic.
“It was more like, ‘Look, I know what this can do’. My son has got breathing difficulties as well, so I was thinking, am I putting him at risk? Never mind just me being a bit scared around the situation. I don’t want to bring it back to him.
“I’m meant to be his protector and people were saying, ‘Football is fine’ — but the rest of the world was being told to stay indoors.”
Thankfully, both Deeney and Alisha are doing well now and have fully recovered. The pandemic has made him appreciate what is most important.
“We take things for granted, don’t we,” he says. “I suppose if you had a car crash, beforehand you’d never think you are going to have a car crash. You always think you’re the best driver in the world. But as soon as you had a crash, you’d go, ‘I’d better sit up and remember how I was driving’.
“That’s kind of what it did to me. It made me go, ‘Oh, I’m not invincible, I need to relax and look after myself — but also appreciate what I’ve got’. I’d love to give my mum a hug and my kids certainly saw the best side of daddy in a long time, because normally I am always on the go.”
Deeney has been hit by injuries this season and last played for Watford in February, due to Achilles and calf issues.
It has meant the Hornets captain has been in the unusual position of watching on from the sidelines as his team-mates secured promotion back to the Premier League.
“I am happy for everybody, genuinely buzzing,” says Deeney. “I have had 11 years at this club. I know everybody from the guy that works the car park security to the people that come in and clean after the players have gone. They are the people that will be more affected [if we didn’t get promoted].
“For the first time in a decade, it had nothing to do with Troy, and the ego side of me was saying, ‘I don’t like that’. I want to be playing, want to be scoring the goals. I don’t want to be a bit-part player. I am not 37, had nine knee operations and just about hanging on. I still want to be part of it and I know I can still be part of it. It was a good, but frustrating.”
So, is Deeney ready for another crack at the Premier League next season?
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “I have been written off my whole life. I revel in being told ‘You are not good enough’ or ‘You can’t’, because I was always told that.”
Troy Deeney’s “Deeney Talks” podcast is available on all major streaming platforms now.