He does not regard his serious injury as a stroke of misfortune, but as a challenge. Mateu Morey is making progress with his rehab. Major progress, you could say. When he put his football boots on for the first time towards the end of last year, it felt to him as if Christmas had come early. "That feeling was very close to pure and unadulterated happiness!"
Mateu Morey always has his lucky charm with him. That lucky charm wears pure white with a soft red stripe. Mateu has taken a picture of it. "Look at this", he says, taking out his mobile phone to show us... But more on that later. Borussia's Spanish defender is in a good mood and has set plenty of time aside to update the Black & Yellow faithful on his recovery progress. He has completed four months of strenuous rehabilitation in Dortmund. At the beginning of May, he severely injured his knee in the cup tie against Holstein Kiel – under no pressure from an opposition player. It was a devastating scene with a lasting impact, with Mateu's cries of pain echoing so terribly clearly around a stadium that was empty due to coronavirus measures. We met Mateu for the first time at the end of August to talk about the long road back. Four months down the line, it's time for the sequel. A discussion about life in rehab, personal victories, difficult German words and his dream of finally running out onto the the pitch at the world's most beautiful stadium once again.
Mateu, there's good news!
Oh yeah? What's that?
The weather! 18 degrees, slightly overcast. Unfortunately not in Dortmund, but where your family lives in Mallorca...
Why unfortunately? I've enjoyed it over the past few days. I was home over Christmas, for the first time since last summer. I had a great time! Christmas. I really like Dortmund and enjoy every minute here. It's a city with wonderful people and incredible fans. But, with all due respect, the weather here is not necessarily the best thing Dortmund has to offer.
Many people here will surely be jealous of the beautiful weather in Mallorca – including your team-mates, who had such a short break this winter that there wasn't even enough time for a training camp in southern Europe. What did you get up to while you were at home?
First and foremost, I celebrated the fact I was reunited with my friends and family. It was unbelievably nice to see each other again in a somewhat larger group – even if we did all have to be very careful. And I was able to work on my rehab in optimal conditions. That was really important – in a physical sense, but also from a mental perspective. Now I'm ready for the New Year, and I'm very optimistic that it will be a good year.
The two weeks in Mallorca must have done you good after the four months you spent in rehab at BVB. There's not all that much variety in the weight room...
Yes, it was important for me mentally to switch off a bit. But I am a professional and I of course continued to work in Mallorca. I don't want to go as far as to say that I completed my exercises under the Christmas tree. But my physiotherapist Jaume made sure that I didn't fall short on my fitness. Jaume doesn't live that far from my parents' house; we've known each other for ages and he has a very good understanding of how to work with me. I trust him 100%!
When we last spoke in August, you told me that there are no problems for you, only challenges. Being discharged from hospital, returning to Dortmund, coming off your crutches – for you, these are all small football games and you want to win them all. When was the last time you celebrated a victory?
That was shortly before I left for Mallorca. The day when I dared to put my football boots on. Look here, I took a photo!
Cool shoes! Pure white with a soft red stripe. This was the first time you've worn them since the serious injury you sustained last May in the cup semi-final against Holstein Kiel?
Oh yes! I'd been very patient beforehand, but it had to happen at some point. I need this feeling, I need to slowly get back to feeling what it's like to be a professional footballer. I didn't know what to expect. Would the shoes be too tight, would there be pressure points, would I even be able to walk in them...?
The shoes should have been worn-in. They spent a few months lying around unused.
No, no, we're not talking about the boots I wore against Kiel. They're no longer around, I got rid of them immediately. That makes things even more complicated. Breaking in a new pair of football boots is difficult enough in itself, and when you've been out of action for six months on top of that...
And – how was it?
Exciting! I walked very carefully for the first few steps, there was a bit of pressure but no pain. How can I describe this feeling? It was very close to pure and unadulterated happiness!
And what personal victory are you planning next? A Bundesliga match at a sold-out SIGNAL IDUNA PARK?
Easy, easy! Yes, we're getting close to the real goal, the really big one. But I don't want to and must not put myself under pressure. Now it's about taking a very important step first: I finally want to kick the ball again!
You could do it secretly, when none of the doctors or physios are around...
Well, between us, I couldn't resist the temptation between two exercises in physiotherapy and I rolled the ball around briefly with my sole of my foot. But on the pitch? No! Discipline is everything. Of course, I've dreamt about it, and about what it'll be like when our stadium announcer Nobby Dickel reads out the line-up, including my name, and I finally run on to the pitch again. To be honest, this scene has been playing over in my head every time I've closed my eyes in the evening since the day I got injured. But dreaming is not enough by itself. So I stick to the guidelines of the medical department, and so far I've done very well with them! First of all, I'm getting used to the new feeling in my feet during my running sessions, which is also a great thing!
As exhausting as rehab is, don't you also enjoy it a little because it gives you the feeling that you are making progress every day? Today you can do more than yesterday, and tomorrow you might make progress you would never have believed possible a week ago?
You have a point! Every step is hard, but when I'm dead tired after a hard day, I think back to how I felt at the beginning of rehab when I could do little more than sit on the sofa. That's where I get my strength and my confidence from.
You regularly keep BVB fans up to date via Twitter and Instagram. There's an incredible confidence in every post you make there. Have you always been such a positive person?
Well, if you ask my parents or my girlfriend, they might tell you completely different things! During such a long injury lay-off, there are of course have phases in which you don't feel quite so good. That's normal, but you can't let those phases take over your emotions. Personally, I just enjoy spreading confidence. Positive thoughts carry you forward; negative thoughts set you back. Nothing gets better if you feel sorry for yourself! That's how I went about things during rehab in Dortmund.
How would you summarise those four months in a sentence?
Four words suffice for that: I have got better. When I arrived here at the end of August, I could hardly walk. I'd just finished with the crutches, but without the orthesis on my right knee, nothing worked. Now I can walk, run, jump. These four months were incredibly important for me! I'm infinitely grateful to the physios, the doctors and the whole staff! I've also developed as a person. Not only in the four months in Dortmund, but through the entire time since the injury.
How do you mean?
Quite simply, I've become mentally and physically stronger. I've learned to see life through the eyes of a normal person – outside the bubble of professional football. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean 'bubble' in a negative way, but if you take this profession seriously, you have to make sacrifices, especially at a club that plays at BVB's level. What professional can afford to spend a whole summer with his family, with his parents, grandparents and girlfriend? I lived in a rhythm that is unimaginable for someone who has to play every three days and otherwise trains, travels and regenerates. That doesn't mean I was lazy during that time.
The rehab must have been strenuous enough, also and especially in the past four months in Dortmund.
I didn't even go to the away games that took place close by, in Gladbach, Leverkusen and Bochum, and do you know why? Because that would've restricted me too much in my rehab. For me, rehab means working fixed hours between Monday and Saturday. On Saturday, only a half day plus a visit to the stadium when we have a home game. For the away games, there would also be a journey to the stadium involved, so I've watched them on TV at home. I use Sunday for regeneration. I've really living in a completely different rhythm to my team-mates. That has made me more versatile and therefore probably improved me as a person.
How satisfied are you with the season so far?
Things have gone well in the Bundesliga, against Bayern too. I don't need to say anything more about that game, do I? For me, the elimination from the Champions League was very painful. Yes, the Europa League is nice too; we have a good chance against Rangers and then we'll see. But a club like BVB must of course always have the ambition to play at the highest level. I watched the decisive match in Lisbon on TV at home and suffered a lot. We went out, damn it! The boys had made such a great start to the Champions League, with the two wins away in Istanbul and at home to Sporting.
The team also welcomed you back with a victory. The first match that you saw following your return was a 3-2 win against Hoffenheim...
...with an extremely late winning goal by Erling Haaland. Many thanks once again, that was a really nice present on my return to the stadium! I was sitting in the stands with my girlfriend and enjoyed being part of the family again.
Have you been back in the changing room?
No, not once since the game against Kiel. Why should I? The dressing room belongs to those who play in the afternoon or the evening, I don't have to draw attention to myself there. Besides, it would be rude to my family, my friends or whoever else is sitting next to me. But if we were to win the league on the last matchday, I would of course make an exception! I'm curious to see what the New Year will bring.
Apart from returning to the football pitch, what goals have you set for yourself in 2022?
I really want to start my German lessons up again. I was doing quite well before the injury, but you have such complicated words, for example Schied... um Schied... (in Spanish): Como se dice arbitro en aleman? (How do you say referee in German?)
Exactly! A really difficult word to pronounce. And then there are those adorable animals that climb up the trees and that my girlfriend loves so much: Eichhörnchen (squirrels). Did I pronounce that properly?
Thanks. We'll do the next interview around my birthday time in March in German. I promise!
Author: Sven Goldmann
Photos: Alexandre Simoes