Back in March of 2011, when Stu Holden was brought down by a Jonny Evans tackle that tore his ACL, the hopeful word was that in 6 months time, Holden, a pivotal part of the Wanderers squad, would be back. Along the way, doctors realized just how bad his injury was and six months turned to 12 that, before we knew it, turned into two years.
In two years, players have come and gone, and the world as we know it has seemingly gone on without a glitch. But the most important thing that's happened, at least in terms of Holden's recovery, is how well he's been able to stay on top of his game while unable to play.
People (including myself) are ecstatic that Holden is back. He's not only a great player on the field, but a genuine guy off. He's spent these last two years as time to better himself and his game, not as some vacation, and he's ready to hit the ground running. As excited as I am, though, I can't help to have a little doubt.
Two years is a long time to be away, and even if you are training consistently, nothing ever fully replaces the feel and the rhythm you get from actually playing in games. Holden's recent stint at Sheffield Wednesday, however, could have potentially pushed him up higher on the ladder. Maybe he didn't play as much as we wanted, but he played, and that's got to have some sort of lasting and beneficial effect on him as he moves on to join the United States Men's National Team.
When it comes to the US, Holden's return might be a key factor to how successful the team ends up being. With Landon Donovan gone for the time being, the team has a need for an experienced midfielder, but they don't need just any veteran, what they really need is Stu. Having a veteran who is determined to be at his best after so long away has got to be endearing to the younger players, and I think that maybe, just maybe, Stu's attitude will push the team over the top.
I've heard some whispers around a few Bolton sites of Stu being a good captain, but as much as I'd love for that to happen, I worry. For starters, Dougie Freedman won't have the opinion of Stu that we do. But even more than that, I just don't like the idea of more stress on Stu. What were to happen if he doesn't initially come back as strong as we all think he will? Giving it to him is risky, but at the same time giving it to someone else just to take it away when Stu is at the level we all (himself included) want, is just plain selfish.
So then, what takes precedent? The team or Stu's health?
I was torn between the two options, but I don't think I can understand fully the road Stu has been on these last two years because: a) I'm not a professional footballer and b) I've never had any sort of serious injury playing sport.
So, I decided to go outside of the box and track down fans, mainly Bolton ones, and see what they thought. This little journey brought me to a surprising gem that made it all clear.
Everyone, meet Danny Welton.
(Cue your hellos, I'll wait.)
Now, besides being a Bolton supporter, Danny had a serious knee injury that sidelined him from football for about a year. So if anyone could shed some light on just how hard it is to bounce back from this kind of thing, I'm hoping it could be him. And after talking to Danny for a while, it became clear that we just have to be patient. Ability isn't something that you lose. While his injury is a major setback, one that people are justifiable concerned about, this won't be the end for Stu. Athletes like him (and even like Danny) come back stronger and more determined to feel good when they get to playing again.
When all is said and done, if we're patient and let Stu focus on taking care of that leg and playing football, he'll be back, one way or another. The best thing, though, is to have an open mind. Stu could come back better, but he could be a different kind of better, not the same player we've grown used to. So celebrate, get excited, hype Stu up as much as you want, because with a fierce determination like his, there's no way he'll let you down.