If Louis Fenton had one wish for the upcoming A-League season, it would be a kinder hand from the football gods.
The Phoenix defender starts another comeback today, against Western United, after a broken foot — and some gruesome complications — put him out of action from mid-March until the beginning of August.
It was the fifth serious injury of Fenton's career.
Since making his debut seven years ago against Sydney FC, he has suffered two shoulder dislocations (on the same side), a groin complaint that sidelined him for almost a year and a broken leg.
It has tested him severely, mentally and physically, but he has never contemplated giving the sport away, despite the dark days.
"There are always demons in the back of your head," said Fenton. "At times you are thinking 'is this what I should be doing?' But I love football and I am always going to try and do this for as long as I can."
The last injury setback was particularly trying. Suffered in round 23 against Newcastle, it ruled him out of the rest of the season, and the team weren't able to replace his engine, skills and positional sense on the right flank, as they stuttered into the finals.
Fenton had a compound fracture — the bone was coming through his skin — which necessitated a metal plate. He then picked up an infection, but had to wait it out to allow the bones to mend, which meant the bacteria had spread by the time the screws were taken out.
"With my foot everything went wrong that could have gone wrong," said Fenton. The 26-year-old had to spend another two weeks in hospital on an IV drip — "they were worried the infection would get into the bone" — passing the time with Netflix, football videos and family visits.
"I had two operations in that time," Fenton said with a laugh. "They were the good days, because I was knocked out for most of that time."
Fenton was on antibiotics for another four or five months, and resumed full training only a month ago. It was a battle to regain fitness and touch in time for the season, but he's definitely ready.
"I trust my body again which is the main thing and I'm fit enough to get through a game."
Last season, Fenton enjoyed arguably his best Phoenix campaign of his 105-game career.
He was an energetic presence as right wing back, and chipped in three goals and two assists.
"It was a good year for me, but I have had other good moments. I added some more flair to my dribbling and got a bit better with my defending."
Today sees the return of former Nix coach Mark Rudan to the capital, for the first time since he walked out on the Phoenix with a year remaining on his contract.
Fenton admits opinions will be varied, but will always have respect for his former coach.
"He gave me another chance last year and I'm not so sure other coaches would have. He put a bit of trust in me when I know a lot of people had written me off."
But he also concedes the clash with the expansion team, who also feature long-time Phoenix stalwart Andrew Durante and 2018/19 squad members Filip Kurto and Max Burgess, will have elements of a grudge match.
"For sure, it adds a bit of spice, probably more for fans than us players," said Fenton. "After such a long pre-season we are just excited for the first game and ready to go."