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Rolando Aarons programme interview - in full

Written by Tom Easterby

Rolando Aarons hoped 2016/17 would be a big season for him. Instead, it’s been punctuated by injury. But now, after overcoming both a fractured metatarsal and a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, the 21-year-old is back in Toon and ready to kick on. This week, he opened up about the physical and mental challenges he’s faced on the road to recovery in an interview with the official matchday programme, which you can now read in its entirety here…

“I’d be lying to you if I said there weren’t dark days. There was a time when I actually broke down in tears because I couldn’t get into a bathtub.”

A chuckle masks months of physical and psychological torment as Rolando Aarons recounts a memory he’d rather forget.

“I just couldn’t get in the tub. I ran the bath, but I couldn’t bend my knee. The pain was too much to actually lift my knee into the bath and then to get my other one in. I just couldn’t do it.

“It was so frustrating. I broke down in tears, and I needed everyone around me to help me through that stage.

“I just looked at the situation. ‘How am I injured again?’ Stupid questions start coming into your head. It just gets a bit too much.

“Out of everything, that’s what drove me to tears – getting into the bathtub.”

For Aarons, one of the brightest young talents in black and white, 2016/17 has been a write-off so far.

A fracture of the fifth metatarsal during the EFL Cup win over Cheltenham in August stalled his season before it had truly begun. Then, after almost three months on the sidelines, he returned to training midway through November.

“It was my first session back, 20 minutes in,” offers Aarons, ruefully. “We were playing attackers against defenders. I got tackled and I planted my leg, and Sadio (Haidara) unfortunately tackled my standing leg while it was planted. That’s when it happened.”

A ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was the dreaded, hammer-blow of a diagnosis.

“At first I was screaming and then I didn’t feel anything, so I got up and started walking. Then my leg hyperextended, and I thought ‘that’s not right’,” he remembers. “I went in, and the doctor and the physios said it might be an ACL.

“I’ve known people who’ve done their ACL, and it’s normally nine to 12 months. I was just thinking ‘this can’t happen’.

“After being out for three months, and with the last couple of years… It didn’t feel real.”

Just over three months on, Aarons is able to recall the primary stages of his recovery with a smile he couldn’t muster at the time.

“My mum was telling me I didn’t have any expression on my face. I was emotionless. I didn’t know how to feel,” says the England Under-21 international.

“For the first two weeks I didn’t speak to anyone. I didn’t answer my phone. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I’d had the same conversation about a hundred times, so I just switched off my phone and tried to deal with it how I deal with everything else.”

His coping strategy was a largely solitary one in that initial, trying period. “I like to deal with things myself. It’s what I do. When I got over that period, I started speaking to my friends and family and they helped me through it.

“I came to Newcastle myself at 16. I never really had my parents watching me every game, every weekend. I’ve always handled things by myself. It’s just the way I’ve grown up.”

With his United teammates excelling and looking like they could break the club’s record for consecutive victories, Aarons – who spent time on the books of this afternoon’s visitors Bristol City as a teenager – admits he’d ‘probably have been the moodiest guy in the world’ had he remained on Tyneside in the immediate aftermath of his injury.

Instead, a change of scenery was sought. The 21-year-old headed to Italy, where he linked up with a specialist and went under the knife.

“I went out to Rome, to a place called Villa Stuart,” he explains. “I had surgery there, and started rehab from day one after surgery.

“I was walking maybe two days after the operation. It was painful, it was a struggle. I couldn’t sleep for two weeks. It was tough, but you’ve got to get through it to get back playing as quick as you can.

“I’d never been to the city, so I was exploring everything and going around, seeing new things, which was nice.”

Messages of goodwill were received in their hundreds during those first few weeks, from supporters, teammates and fellow professionals, though it was the words of support from his close friends and family that Aarons held dearest.

There were some rather more discouraging communications sent his way, too; tweets that highlighted Aarons’ supposed susceptibility to injury, or questioned the contribution he’s made at St. James’ Park to date.

“You always get the tweets saying ‘he’s injury prone’ or ‘he’s done nothing in the last however long’. But at the end of the day, I’m here to represent Newcastle. I got injured representing Newcastle. I just try to focus on getting back to playing football,” he says.

“I find it funny. When you’re comfortable in yourself, you don’t really listen to stuff like that. I know where I’ve come from. I know the journey.

“I come from Kingston, Jamaica. Most people wouldn’t dare go there. Do you know what I mean? I grew up in streets like that.

“If you can’t get over things I’ve been through in my life before I came here, then you’ll never get through social media. It’s not a big deal.”

Aarons’ sights are now trained firmly on a comeback. He returned from Italy and began light training at the Magpies’ Benton base a week ago, just over 13 weeks after suffering that devastating knee injury.

Getting through a rehabilitation period so speedily after an injury such as his is almost unheard of. Aarons says it hasn’t been – and still isn’t – a smooth ride, however, and that lingering doubts remain.

“You still have them now,” he admits. “The first month is the hardest, the second month is better than the first month and the third month is better than the second month, so now I’m understanding that if I keep going and going I’ll get back to where I was.

“When I was in Rome, one day I’d feel horrible, the next day I’d feel unbelievable. It just keeps going like that, back and forth. It’s just about having patience, really, which I don’t have a lot of.

“I said to my friend when I came back to training that this is where my actual rehab starts. It feels as if I’m a different person. Your mind takes over your body, because you’re so afraid to re-injure yourself. You’re in a shell.

“That’s the hardest thing with the rehab – when you come back, you’re in a training environment, and you’re kind of scared.

“I think that’s where the more experienced heads come in, like the gaffer and the coaches. The gaffer was speaking to me throughout the whole session, saying ‘take it easy’. He’s seen it before.

“There’ll come a situation in training where I will have to do something that I do naturally, and once I get past that, I’ll realise I can do it. That will give me a bit more confidence, and I’ll keep getting it, day by day.”

The former Robins wideman is patently aching to prove himself on the pitch – something he says has, on occasion, contributed to his undoing. Since his breakthrough season of 2014/15, Aarons is aware that time has passed by at speed.

“I feel like I’m 25 already,” he says. “I’ve been in the first team for about two-and-a-half years now, but I’ve only played about 20 games. Realistically, if I’d stayed fit, I’d have done that in a season.

“I always think there’ll be a time when I can show everyone what I’m really about. The majority of the fans have seen what I can do, and it’s helped me motivate myself, because I’ve actually been able to show glimpses of what I’m capable of.

“Sometimes it’s probably my downfall that I want to show too much or do too much, and it comes out in the games, especially when I haven’t played a lot. It can affect me when I get on the pitch for five minutes, and I’ll try something that I really shouldn’t.

“But I always want to play. I want to play every minute and score goals, assist goals and do as well as I can for the club. At the same time, I’ve got to assess my situation now, realise that I’ve got to wait again and go from there.”

But now he’s back once more, and can just about make out a ray of light at the end of a long, long tunnel.

There have been plusses to come out of the latest, most challenging chapter of Aarons’ career. “My right foot’s improving, it’s been getting better!” he laughs. There’s been a realisation, too.

“I wouldn’t say I took training for granted or playing games for granted, but I understand now how much it means to go out there every day, to train every day, and how fortunate I am,” he says.

“Even when I was in Rome, there were people saying ‘oh my God, you play for Newcastle?’ and I just realised how fortunate I am and how far I’ve come. I won’t take it for granted.

“I would love to get a game or two before the end of the season, to feel the atmosphere again and just play. But realistically, I’m just focussed on getting training sessions in and getting back to playing football every single day.

“Even in training sessions now I’m loving it every single day, going out there, thinking it’s the World Cup final. It’s nice to be back.”

He says that with conviction. But does Aarons, who penned a new five-year deal at St. James’ Park last summer, still harbour any residual grievances about the cruel twists of fate that have cost him a season?

“It’s felt as if it’s always me,” he acknowledges. “But I’m quite religious. I believe in God, and I think everyone has a plan and a journey.

“This is the start of my career. It might be hard, but you never know what’ll happen by the end.”

“For the first two weeks I didn’t speak to anyone. I didn’t answer my phone. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I’d had the same conversation about a hundred times, so I just switched off my phone and tried to deal with it how I deal with everything else.”

Rolando Aarons

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