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Exclusive: Reto Ziegler – Europe’s journeyman opens up on fresh FC Dallas challenge

The Boot Room caught up with FC Dallas defender Reto Ziegler.

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Reto Ziegler
Photo: Getty Images

If you take one look at Major League Soccer as its 2018 season begins to get into full flow, you’d most likely find yourself surprised at the number of ex-Premier League players who currently ply their trade there.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the name on the tip of everyone’s tongues following his extremely well-documented move to Los Angeles Galaxy last month – even more so after his scarcely believable two-goal heroics on debut in the LA derby – but the MLS’ Premier League link runs deeper than that.

Whether it be the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Bastian Schweinsteiger who chanced their arm in America towards the end of their careers or someone like Bradley Wright-Phillips, making a name for himself at New York Red Bulls, the MLS is undeniably growing global interest year by year.

The latest player to be swayed by the lure of the MLS during the recent off-season is that of European football veteran Reto Ziegler, who made the switch to Texan outfit FC Dallas in January.

The 32-year-old former Switzerland international has certainly seen his fair share of the world since breaking into the Grasshopper first-team back in 2002 – across the previous 16 years Ziegler has featured for 12 different clubs across six European countries – but he insists that he’s up for the fresh challenge as FC Dallas attempt to reach their fourth Conference Finals in the past five seasons.

Speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, Ziegler said:

“It’s a nice change for me. It’s nice to play in the MLS and especially with Dallas.

“For me, the best opportunity was the MLS. Also for my family. I feel happy on the field and off the field. This is most important for me.”

Despite only being seven matches into his FC Dallas tenure it has already been an eventful time for Ziegler, seeing his new side fall to a shock two-legged defeat in the last-16 of the CONCACAF Champions League before leading from the back as Dallas sit unbeaten in the Western Conference.

“We are disappointed [to bow out of the CONCACAF]. It was one of our goals so we are a bit disappointed for that. But on the other hand in the MLS we are still unbeaten, we are really close to winning the games. It’s just a lack of concentration in front of the goalposts.”

Whilst the last-16 defeat to Panama minnows Tauro FC in the Champions League was a bitter blow before the domestic season began, there’s no denying that FC Dallas have bounced back.

Five games, no losses, and nine points – it’s a solid base to build on.

Four consecutive home matches to start the campaign brought three battling draws against Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids, with a resounding win over 2016 MLS Cup champions and 2017 MLS Cup runners-up Seattle Sounders and the latest win over New England Revolution moving them up to fifth in the early standings, four points off the top.

It is early days of course, and there’s an awful lot of MLS football to be played out between now and when the final positions in the ladder are done and dusted later in the year, but Ziegler seems confident that this current crop of players have the ability to produce something special.

 “We want to play in the front. The coach and the team, in the last year, they always play a major part of this league and in the first positions. I don’t want to be arrogant and say we want to be champions, but we have the quality to do that.

“It’s a team that plays football I really like. We keep lots of possession, we don’t play long balls, we have a good squad. I am really pleased with that.”

Having said that, the former Swiss international is by no means getting carried away with the potential that FC Dallas possess in their ranks.

With three draws coming in their opening five MLS games it’s been a case of nearly but not quite at times for the Texan outfit, and this is something Ziegler says they need to improve if they have dreams of going for glory at the end of the season.

“We need to win games.

“We didn’t score the goals but if you saw our games we create a lot of chances – but we didn’t score. We have to change and if we can change that I am sure we can beat each team here in the MLS.”

There is no denying that their finishing was more clinical away at New England this weekend though, with 22-year-old midfielder Jacori Hayes capping off an eye-catching display with a 76th-minute winner.

It was Hayes’ first goal for the club since being drafted back in early January – where he was selected in the first round – and Ziegler admitted that he has been impressed with the talent that he has come across in training from both Hayes and the other youngsters at FC Dallas.

“We have very good young players. It is not easy to get into the first-team. The step from the youth-team to the first-team is not easy.

“But we have a lot of quality in here. I think, if the team begins to win games, the coach will give the chance to these young players. You will see that we have really good quality here.

Saturday’s hard-fought victory over New England Revolution – a side that hadn’t lost in ten previous encounters at the Gillette Stadium prior to kick-off – was one that showcased everything that this current FC Dallas side is about, being well-organised and compact at the back and strong in midfield.

This foundation in defence has been the story of their season so far, and it’s been impressive.

After five games of the regular MLS season no other side can boast having a better defensive record than FC Dallas, who have conceded just three times in 450 minutes.

And this is partly down to the budding partnership that Ziegler is beginning to form with FC Dallas stalwart and US international Matthew Hedges.

The 28-year-old has made over 150 appearances for the club since making his debut six years ago, quickly making a name for himself as one of the best central defenders across the MLS.

With the MLS experience that Hedges has – being crowned MLS Defender of the Year in 2016 after a standout season – mixed with the global experience that Ziegler can bring to the table, there’s a ready-made recipe for success down at the Toyota Stadium, and this defensive partnership could be key to how the year pans out.

On a more personal level, it has been quite the career for the 32-year-old, to date.

From starting out at Swiss side Grasshopper, to stints at Tottenham and Juventus, before short-term periods spent in Turkey and Russia at Fenerbahce and Lokomotiv Moscow, respectively, and then returning back home to FC Sion in his native Switzerland, it has been anything but boring for Ziegler.

During this time it’s not just his club that has changed though, but also his position.

From being a young left-midfielder at Wigan Athletic to a rejuvenated centre-back at FC Sion, it appears that it’s taken until late in his footballing career to find out just where Ziegler truly thrives.

And – as seen in some strong performances in the heart of defence for FC Dallas already in the infancy of this MLS season – it’s in this more central role that has seen him offer his full potential.

Reflecting on his shift to the middle of the back-four, he said:

“It was not my decision, but the coach at that time with Sion needed a centre-back. I played there, got man-of-the-match and we won the Swiss Cup. When we went to the Europa League, we played Liverpool twice and we drew twice, and I played this position.

“I feel really comfortable in this position. I was awarded best centre-back in Switzerland. It was a surprise for me because when you play ten years at left-back you do not expect to change positions.

“But I have a lot of fun in this position. It’s a position where I can help my team-mates and be a leader, that’s why I was captain also back home. I enjoy myself in this position.”

And whilst Ziegler’s transition into a more central position has proved successful in recent years, he’ll face his sternest test yet when LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic come to town in a few weeks.

“Of course I am looking forward to playing against him [Ibrahimovic]. He is one of my favourite strikers. I played against him when he was at Inter Milan and with AC Milan.

“Now I am a centre-back – this time I really have to defend against him. I’m looking forward to that.”

With FC Dallas making a strong start to the MLS season hopes are already beginning to grow that this could be their best chance of claiming that elusive MLS Cup title for a fair few years.

After just five games of the regular season it already appears that Ziegler has made himself at home at FC Dallas, and if success is to follow in the upcoming months you can almost guarantee that the former Swiss international will play a vital role in the heart of the defence.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

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Belgium

Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – Belgium’s World Cup chances and facing England in Group G

The Belgian international discusses his countries hopes at the upcoming World Cup.

Jake Jackman

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Thorgan Hazard
Photo: Getty Images

The World Cup is fast approaching and the excitement is beginning to build as the club season draws to an end.

Belgium are going to be England’s biggest challenge in Group G, with the other two teams being Tunisia and Panama.

The two European nations are set to face each other on the 28th June in the final group match and it is likely that the fixture will decide who goes through in first place.

England will know the Belgium squad well, as a lot of their players ply their trade in England.

However, Thorgan Hazard is less known to English defenders and the Borussia Monchengladbach attacker could have a role to play this summer.

Roberto Martinez is a big fan of the 25-year-old and has included him in the majority of squads since becoming manager of the Red Devils.

He may not have had the success of his older brother, Eden, at international level but he has collected seven caps and one goal for his country.

At the age of 25, he is approaching the peak years of his career and it would be great for his development if he could announce himself on the global stage.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard spoke about his hopes for both Belgium and himself this summer.

“I hope to be part of the Belgian team travelling to Russia. Since our current coach Roberto Martinez took over, I was invited to all matches and could also make a few matches.

“The decision is of course with the coach. I have to show good performances in the club, then we will see. Of course, it would be very special for me if I could be there.”

It won’t be easy for Hazard to get into the team this summer, as Belgium have their own Golden Generation at the moment and Martinez has a number of talented attackers available to him.

Eden Hazard is likely to be the key man, but Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Michy Batshuayi have all had good campaigns for top European clubs. Meanwhile, Divock Origi, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Carrasco all provide solid options for Martinez.

Although the younger Hazard brother won’t be one of the first names on the team-sheet, he has had his best season in professional football and stood out as the best player at Monchengladbach this season.

It has been a year of progression from the 25-year-old and his regular involvement with the national side shows that his manager has taken notice.

Hazard is currently the leading scorer for Monchengladbach with nine goals in the Bundesliga, which is his best return for a single league season. His consistency has been impressive, as he has averaged 2.01 chances created and 2.59 shots per ninety minutes. The attacker has been a regular threat to defences.

To put his performances into context, his older brother has averaged 3.13 chances created and 2.67 shots per ninety minutes for Chelsea. Considering Eden is playing in a superior team and has more opportunity to express himself, these stats show the quality of Thorgan.

“I think it’s the best generation of footballers Belgium has ever had. Of course, we want to go far at this World Cup, beyond as in 2014. But winning this title is very difficult. Everything has to fit, including health and luck in the matches.”

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It is the pinnacle of the sport to lift the World Cup and Belgium have never managed to do it in their history. That isn’t surprising due to their size, but the names listed earlier show the quality that they currently possess. There is a belief that this is their best chance and Hazard clearly agrees with that. In 2014, they got experience in the tournament and reached the quarter-final stage, but they will be looking to improve of that this summer.

They will go into this summer with confidence after easing through their qualification group. Although they didn’t have the most difficult opposition, they managed to win nine of their ten matches and scored an incredible 43 goals, which averaged out at over four per game. Martinez has given the squad license to play attacking football and that certainly plays to their strengths.

However, Hazard is right to allude to the difficulty of winning the World Cup. Only one nation can do it every four years and Belgium won’t be one of the favourites. They will need everything to click and get the bit of luck required to go deep into a tournament. The first challenge will be England and the Monchengladbach winger spoke of the benefits his country will gain from having a number of Premier League players in the squad.

“Many of the best Belgian footballers play in the Premier League. So, we know many English players well. But it makes a difference whether you play against them with the club team or meet each other with the national teams. We will definitely do everything we can to win this difficult and important group game.”

They do have an advantage through knowing the English players well, but England have the same knowledge that could prove an important factor. This is why those that play in other top European leagues could be crucial in the final group game. Mertens, Radja Nainggolan and the younger Hazard could all be key figures for the Red Devils.

This summer will be special for the Hazard family. It is rare for two siblings to play to a high level in professional football and even rarer for them to feature alongside each other at a World Cup. It could be a tournament that takes both players to a new level.

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Borussia Monchengladbach

Exclusive: Thorgan Hazard – From Chelsea to Gladbach and comparisons with brother Eden

The Belgian international discusses his development as a player since leaving Stamford Bridge.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Due to the fact that his brother is regarded as one of the best players in the world, Thorgan Hazard was always going to face an uphill battle to establish himself in football.

Like his older sibling, the Borussia Monchengladbach player is an attacker who likes to run with the ball and create problems for opposition defences.

His family name would have had positives and negatives for him, but ultimately, he has managed to break through and forge a reputation on his own merit during recent years.

The comparisons between the two have been impossible to miss. The 25-year-old has grown used to them as it has happened throughout his career, but he believes that his path in professional football has been more normal than Eden’s.

In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, Hazard revealed the following:

“I’ve always been compared to him. But I have often said that he is one of the best players in the world at one of the best clubs in the world. He is a genius on the pitch who has skipped several career steps. I, on the other hand, had normal development as a footballer. Although we play in a similar position, we are different players.”

Although he believes his journey has differed to his brother’s, Thorgan was signed by Chelsea shortly after the club paid big money to land Eden.

(Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The attacker was 19 years of age at the time and likely signed to appease his big brother, but it provided him with an opportunity to take his own career to the next level. He didn’t stay long and took the first chance to gain first-team experience through a loan spell.

“I spent only a month at Chelsea. Then I was loaned directly to Belgium and then to Germany. I do not want to say that I learned a lot during the one month, but it was nice to meet the club.”

The Chelsea loan policy has been heavily criticised during recent years as the club was accused of hoarding talent. However, there were benefits for young players as they got a healthy wage and were loaned out to clubs that could give them substantial playing time.

Hazard spent three seasons out on loan before eventually leaving Stamford Bridge without making an appearance in the Premier League. His third season was spent with Borussia Monchengladbach.

It is becoming increasingly common for English youngsters to move to Germany whether permanently or on loan. When asked about for his thoughts on that, Hazard acknowledged the benefits that the Bundesliga provides to a young, developing player.

“A lot of playing time is best for young players to develop. And in Germany, the clubs often give the boys good chances. The Bundesliga is also a very good competition to develop.”

It was in the German top-flight that Hazard really made his name, stepping out of his older brother’s shadow in the process. He went on an initial season-long loan to Borussia Monchengladbach before making the move permanent 12 months later.

During his first campaign with the German club, he started only seven league matches with another further 21 appearances coming from the bench. Despite his limited role, the attacker ended the season with seven assists showing the creativity that he possesses.

Hazard has provided dynamism to the Monchengladbach team since arriving at the club and has played his best football when used in a central role, as his direct style causes problems for opposition teams.

(Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a huge surprise when the Bundesliga side made his deal permanent as they could see his potential and decided they could put the time into his development. He has been an important first-team player since signing, but it has only been this season that he has become an indispensable member of the starting eleven.

Hazard has started 29 times in the Bundesliga and the club have been rewarded with the attacker’s best season in the final third. The Belgian international currently has nine goals and four assists. At the time of writing, he is the team’s top scorer and he has shone in a mixed season for the club as they are currently positioned in 8th.

Monchengladbach are an ambitious club and having played in the Champions League in two of the last three seasons, they will be looking to challenge towards the top of the division. Their current position is not bad, but they will look back on it with some regret.

“I think we had a good first turn, we have achieved good performances and good results. The second half of the season is very difficult.

“We had many injured players and some unfortunate decisions of the referee against us. But that cannot be an excuse. In some cases, we have not shown our best performance. That’s why we are in the middle of the table. Now we want to win the remaining games if possible.”

The team still have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe, but they will require a perfect end to the season and other teams to slip up. They have had problems in both halves of the pitch, but it is their defensive record that has troubled them more. In total, the club have conceded 48 goals, which ranks them as the joint-third worst defence in the division.

In the final third, they have been decent, but they still have the second-worst record in the top half of the table. One player to impress and show consistency has been Hazard. The 25-year-old has scored more league goals than any other player in the squad and he admits that it is enjoying his responsibility in the final third.

“Of course, it’s nice to be the top scorer of his team. But it’s just my job to help the team win games. Being a decisive player also means I’m doing a good job. Whether I’m involved in goals or someone else is not the most important thing.”

(Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Hazard has certainly been a decisive player this season, as he is having his most productive campaign since signing for Monchengladbach. There are a lot of talented players in the squad, but the Belgian international is arguably the standout and it will be important that they keep him if they want to challenge higher up the league next season.

There won’t be a shortage of clubs looking at his as a potential target and this summer could be huge in determining his future. Hazard looks likely to go to the World Cup with Belgium and that will put him in the shop window if he plays and performs well.

Given his brother’s success in England, there could be Premier League interest in the 25-year-old at some point soon. However, he isn’t looking too far ahead of himself.

“Everyone knows the Premier League and it’s an interesting competition. But right now, I have another two years contract with Borussia Mönchengladbach. We will see what the future holds. But I feel very comfortable with Borussia and in the Bundesliga. At the moment I do not think about a change.”

At the age of 25, Hazard has several seasons left at the top level and his gradual improvement until now should offer encouragement that greater things are to come in his career. He has a lot more to give and this season has seen him take his career to the next level.

The Monchengladbach man has gone from decent squad player to leading attacker and he isn’t finished yet.

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Aston Villa

Exclusive: Rudy Gestede – Tony Pulis’ preferred target man, Aston Villa woes and injury recovery

The Middlesbrough striker gave a candid interview as he looks to recover from his long-term injury.

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Rudy Gestede
Photo: Getty Images

In the 2014/15 season, Blackburn Rovers classic big-man little-man strike duo of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes tore apart Championship defences with both players scoring 20+ league goals each as the Lancashire outfit pursued promotion to the top flight.

After Rovers missed out on a play-off place it was inevitable that the Gestede-Rhodes partnership would be broken up as bigger clubs, with deeper pockets, came calling.

Rhodes received most of the plaudits during their time together at Ewood Park, so it was with some surprise that Gestede got the call up to the Premier League first, signing for Aston Villa as a replacement for the departing Christian Benteke.

Rhodes would have to wait another season to make it to the big league with Middlesbrough, while Gestede exited the club with an impressive record of 33 goals in 66 games.

The target man made a roaring start to life at Villa, scoring on his debut to give the Midlands outfit a 1-0 win over Bournemouth.

However, that was to be a rare high point in his time in the West Midlands.

Villa went on a six-game losing streak and Tim Sherwood, the man who brought Gestede to the club, lost his job. His replacement, Remi Garde, made it known fairly quickly that Gestede did not fit the style of football that he intended to play.

“My dream has always been to play in the Premier League,” Gestede told The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview.

“At Aston Villa I started quite well, scoring four goals in 10 games. But then, after Tim Sherwood was sacked, Remi Garde came in and told me I wouldn’t be playing because he doesn’t use a target man.

“I didn’t play for a while, coming on for just five or ten minutes. It’s hard to find your rhythm when that is the case and it was disappointing.”

Following Villa’s relegation to the Championship, the club invested heavily in an attempt to return to the top flight, with big money splashed out on proven Championship goalscorers, Ross McCormack and Jonathan Kodjia.

Despite his record at this level, both Roberto De Matteo and his successor at Villa Park, Steve Bruce, overlooked Gestede in favour of the new signings.

So when he was offered another bite at Premier League football with Middlesbrough, where he replaced his old partner in crime Rhodes, he understandably jumped at the chance.

However, it proved to be a difficult time for Gestede.

Middlesbrough had started the season well but a run of poor results found them battling relegation and manager Aitor Karanka was quick to publically criticise the club hierarchy for failing to land his preferred transfer targets, compatriots Bojan Krkic and Jesé.

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Subsequently, Gestede found himself in a similar situation to the one he left at Villa, with Karanka, and his eventual replacement Steve Agnew, both preferring to operate with Alvaro Negredo on his own up front.

“Again, I was playing just a few minutes here and there. It is hard as a striker when you don’t get at least a few games in a row. You don’t get used to the rhythm and you take a while to get up to the speed of the competition, especially for a player of my size.  That was a frustrating period as I didn’t get the chance to show what I feel I am capable of.”

In the summer, after relegation back to the Championship, Garry Monk was appointed as the third Boro boss during the six months since Gestede had signed.

Monk immediately broke the club’s transfer record by paying Nottingham Forest a reported £15 million for powerful forward Britt Assombalonga, before making the Congo international his go-to striker.

Gestede’s time under Monk was again limited to – in the main – cameo’s from the bench, usually when Boro were chasing a game.

“Under Garry Monk my playing time was limited. When you start getting starts and scoring goals you want to keep going. But that is part of being a player and you don’t have the time to sit and complain about what is happening. You have to prepare yourself for what will be the next fight.”

(Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)

After a frustrating first half to the Championship campaign, Monk was dismissed, largely due to Boro’s defensive frailties and poor record against promotion rivals, which threatened to remove them from the play-off picture.

For a club that usually prides itself on giving their managers time to embed their philosophy, during his short spell at Boro, Gestede has played under a total of four different managers.

He has had few chances to experience run of games playing in his preferred position and feels that the Boro faithful haven’t seen the best from him, as a result.

“Since 2015, when I started at Aston Villa, I have had 10 managers. It does make things hard, as they look to give you varying amounts of playing time and in a number of different roles. You have to adapt. Sometimes they ask you to change the way you play and it doesn’t suit you very well.”  

To some surprise experienced Premier League survival specialist Tony Pulis opted to replace Monk at the Riverside.

Pulis is infamous for his direct football which represented a big departure from the open attacking style of Monk and the patient possession-based play of Karanka.

Pulis’ disciplinarian nature and style of play were imposed on the Boro squad immediately.

“He has more experience than any previous managers. He has his idea and you know he is going to stick with it. He wants us to set-up the way he likes to play. He is also a real leader. He is the man in charge and you feel that around the club. If you do not do what he says you know you are going to be out of the squad.”

Players who did not fit the Pulis mould were quickly jettisoned.

The attacking full-back Cyrus Christie, one of Boro’s best performers in the first half of the season, was sold to Fulham and replaced with the physically imposing Ryan Shotton.

Danish international attacking midfielder Martin Braithwaite was sent to Bordeaux on loan.

Pulis had a habit of playing a physically imposing target man at his previous clubs so the smart money was on Gestede being a shoe-in for first-team football and this soon proved to be the case.

“We know he likes to put players with height in the squad, but I didn’t know if I would be playing over Britt or Patrick. During the first few weeks in January, he started to rotate players to see who would fit best with the way he likes to play. After that, I started to get a run of games”

Pulis developed a formula of playing that on paper suited a striker with Gestede’s attributes.

Full-backs Ryan Shotton and George Friend would launch long throws up the line or into the opposition box.

The pace of Adama Traore, a player who has flourished under Pulis, was exploited to get up the pitch quickly and put early balls into the box.

The centre-backs and goalkeeper were encouraged to go long to Gestede early, with Boro attempting to play off the knockdowns.

This style of football suited Gestede’s attributes more than any other manager he had played under at Boro.

“You have to play with your strengths. I will not try to beat ten people with the ball, because that’s not what I’m good at. I leave that to others, the likes of Adama.

“My game is to hold the ball up for my teammates while being in the box as often as possible to score goals. I need to be there, but they need to feed me as well.

“If you were to start playing me down the channels, that wouldn’t be using my strengths. Everyone has a responsibility to the team and the target man role suits me well. “

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

The Pulis philosophy took time to bed in at Boro. Results were mixed and some portions of the Riverside crowd were unhappy with the style of football.

Gestede bore the brunt of some criticism due to the perception of him being a Pulis pick.

This was not helped by the manager dropping and publically criticising top scorer and fan favourite Britt Assombalonga.

After a slow start back in the first-team Gestede was able to answer some of those critics by bagging a brace against Hull.

Unfortunately, however, he also picked up an injury during that game, which he later discovered was a fractured ankle.

This injury cruelly ended his season just as he was finally getting going at the club.

“When you realise you are going to be out of the team it is hard to take, but you cannot stay in this mindset for long otherwise it is going to be more difficult to come back. You have to have the right mental attitude in order to come back as quickly as you can.”

Gestede could be forgiven for thinking that his future may lie elsewhere given how much tactical omissions and injuries have restricted his playing time at Boro.

But the striker has stated his intention to regain fitness and force his way back into the team next season. If Pulis remains in charge, it is likely that we will see Rudy leading the line again for Boro.

“In the summer we will review everything that is going on. In football, anything can happen, but I do not plan to leave. I just want to be ready for the squad. I will have a chat with the owner and if he is happy for me to stay then I will be very pleased. But football is full of surprises and you just never know.”

Whilst starting the long road back to recovery Gestede has uploaded regular updates of his rehabilitation on his YouTube channel titled #DAILYREHAB.

Each vlog offers an intimate look at his journey back to fitness and includes in-depth input from the Rockcliffe Park medical staff and occasional cameos from his team-mates.

In this time of heavy media management and arm’s length communications amongst professional footballer’s Gestede’s candid approach has been well received by Boro fans.

The vlog has shed light on the difficult and lonely experiences of an injured footballer whilst also showing the hard work that is put in by the medical staff and an injured individual in order to return to competition.

Gestede has found that the positive messages from the fans have also helped him:

“I wanted to motivate people. When I started rehab I wanted to show people that you have to work hard and that you have to believe in yourself if you want to come back stronger.

“It has been nice connecting with the fans. It is important as they are there every weekend supporting us. They are the same as us, we are both people. As footballers, we just have the luck to do what we love every day. We are fortunate that football is watched by so many people.

“It is important to use our ‘fame’, even though I do not like this word, to spread a positive attitude and way of doing things. There are too many bad things said about footballers because of the media. Now we have the chance to use social media to make it right.”

The football world recently mourned the passing of former England international Ray Wilkins, who died of a cardiac arrest at the age of just 61.

Gestede was fortunate enough to work with Ray who coached him at Aston Villa and he looks back on their time spent together fondly.

“I didn’t know Ray before I signed for Villa, but I got to know him quite quickly as we were in the same hotel together before I found a house in the area.

He was such a kind person and an absolute gentleman, always so friendly to my wife and kids. He always carried a positive attitude and he had an amazing knowledge of football.

I really enjoyed my time at Villa with Ray and I am very sad to lose such a great person, as he was.”  

So often in tragic circumstances such as these, we are reminded that life is short.

Gestede may well be holding that thought in his head as inspiration as he puts his all into bouncing back from injury.

All Boro fans will be hoping to see him back in a red shirt next season terrorising defences. Perhaps even Premier League defences.

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