BARKS’ EXAMPLE INSPIRED GEORGE
WHEN seeking inspiration to help get over his dream transfer becoming an injury nightmare, Derby’s George Thorne found it closer to home than expected in the shape of club captain Shaun Barker.
Just four days after completing a £3m move from West Brom in July, Thorne was crocked during a pre-season friendly against Zenit Saint Petersburg.
The anterior cruciate ligament injury in his left knee has kept the midfielder out for seven long months, during which time he knuckled down alongside skipper Barker, who is in the midst of his own remarkable comeback.
Barker has needed three operations after dislocating his knee and rupturing ligaments in March 2012. The 32-year-old has not played a first-team game since and his wife, Bec, recently admitted she once feared he would never walk again.
The club captain, though, is on his way back. The centre-back returned to training in January and played for Derby’s U21s last month. And, while Thorne says his own recovery has been arduous, fighting his way back alongside Barker has put things into clearer focus.
“Having someone like Barks around is an inspiration not just for me but for everyone at the club and football in general,” said Thorne, who made his return in last Saturday’s 3-2 home win against Sheffield Wednesday.
“The mental strength he has had to maintain over the last few years is just amazing. He is a credit to himself.
“It puts things into perspective a bit. An ACL injury is now common and there are different ways of dealing with it, but with Shaun it has been a very difficult time, and he’s had lots and lots of little setbacks as well.
“He’s been a big help, as has Paul Coutts (now Sheffield United) who also suffered from a serious knee injury. We’ve all helped each other when we needed to, and we’d like to see Shaun back on the pitch for Derby as soon as possible.”
On Barker’s return to first-team training a few weeks ago, striker Jamie Ward jokingly introduced him to the rest of the squad as a new signing.
Barker took it in good spirits, but Thorne – despite spending the latter half of last season on loan at Derby – could well feel like the new kid on the block at the IPRO Stadium.
However, it is not the first time the former England U19 interna- tional has been kicking his heels on the sidelines. Thorne suffered the same ligament injury while with West Brom in February 2013, albeit in his right knee, so he knew what to expect.
“It wasn’t ideal to get the injury just a few days after signing for the club, I was on such a high after completing my move,” added the 22-year-old.
“Once I got my head around it, I knew the rehab that was required, so I just had to get my head down, and I’m grateful for everyone who supported me.
“I didn’t think I’d suffered such a serious injury at the time, I couldn’t believe it. I’d had a similar injury already, the ACL in my right knee playing for West Brom, and on that occasion I was out for ten months. I thought this time the damage was minimal so I was gutted when it was so serious.
“It took me a good few days to get over it, but I did and I knew I’d have to work hard.”
With Derby flying in their quest for a Premier League return, Thorne has no intention of missing out on a potential promotion party come May.
“I need to be sensible with it, it will have to be a gradual buildup but there are still lots of important games to come so I’m not rushing,” he continued. “I trust the gaffer (Steve McClaren). If he decides it is gradual then I’m happy with that.
“It’s quite similar to last season when I came in on loan. There were probably a couple more games left in the season last time, plus the play-offs, but we’re in a good position.
“The plan is to avoid the playoffs this time round, though!”
THORNE IN THE SIDE: George Thorne is so glad to be back playing for the Rams. Insets: Shaun Barker suffers his horror injury and trains in the snow on his long road to recovery