Shrewsbury's Daniel Udoh staying positive on long road to recovery
Being injured as a professional athlete can at times be a lonely existence – but Shrewsbury Town’s Dan Udoh is taking everything in his stride.
It must be hard for the forward, who played such a pivotal role in Salop’s success last season with his 16 goals, to watch on from the sidelines while his team-mates manage to put in consistent performances week after week.
It has been more than six months since the striker picked up his anterior cruciate ligament injury in the game against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium.
It is the diagnosis that every footballer dreads, and one that in most cases rules you out for the rest of the season. But despite the disappointment of not being able to play, the striker is instead looking at the positives and enjoying being able to spend time with family – a luxury footballers often do not have.
He said: “It has been difficult because the routine of playing football is something I have been doing for ages now.
“But what it has done is given me time to be a normal human being. On a Saturday I can come and watch without too much pressure while pushing the boys on as much as I can.
“But I do not have that pressure and those nerves running through me as much. I do get nervous for the boys, but it is different when you are playing.
“I get to spend more time with family. Christmas was the first time I have enjoyed a big Christmas dinner while not having to think about the Boxing Day match the next day.
“So I am doing really well. For me, as a person, I have tried to make sure I am fine before football.
“My family are all good, and my team-mates are doing well, so I can’t complain.”
In the early days of his recovery, there would have been times when his team-mates have been on the training pitch preparing for their next League One clash, and Udoh has been stuck inside due to his injury.
Throughout the campaign, one thing Shrewsbury have demonstrated consistently is togetherness and resilience.
The players have it, but it is instilled by manager Steve Cotterill.
In part due to his recruitment, but also down to the culture created, and Udoh says the Town boss has continually made him feel valued during his spell on the sidelines.
“He has still been keeping us around and keeping us involved as much as he can,” Udoh said about the boss.
“The gaffer and other players like Benno (Elliott Bennett), who have done their ACLs before, are people you can go to and ask questions like ‘how did it feel at three or four months?’ So they have been good in that respect.
“He has treated us well, we are still valued and as he has been through it, he will know whether his manager valued him when he had these kinds of struggles and he will know how much that can help.
“I remember once I said to him ‘brilliant win for you boys at the weekend’ and he was like ‘no... it was a brilliant win for us’. He said it is a team that I am still very much a part of, and if I was fit and able, I would be playing and helping out the squad as much as I could.”
What has been some comfort for the 26-year-old is that he has not been alone.
Just a few weeks after Udoh picked up his injury, George Nurse did the same thing in the victory against Burton Albion. And since then, the pair have been working their way back to fitness together.
Terrible luck for the club, but at least they have each other.
Udoh added: “We are in the building together every day. He has started running in the last week or so and he is only five weeks behind me.
“Everything I am doing, he is seeing and then he is preparing himself to do it, he is in a good place mentally as well so I cannot complain for both of us.
“We are enjoying the rehab because we have each other to help push us on, as otherwise it could have been really boring and hard.
“We have always been close and we like each other’s company, the whole squad is close to be fair, and it could have been anyone else and I would have still gotten along with them.”
Shrewsbury find themselves ninth in the League One table considering they have been without two of their main players for the vast majority of the season – it has been an extremely successful campaign to date.
And that is something the former AFC Telford United man is delighted about.
He said: “From that perspective, I am delighted for the boys with how well they are doing, any time they have had a rough patch I always try and remind them (how well they have done).
“As I have been here quite a while, this is the best we have done since the play-off season and normally we are fighting for 16th and staying safe so it has been really good.
“I think the leaders in the group have really helped out, Luke (Leahy), Flanno (Tom Flanagan) and Benno (Elliott Bennett) – the more experienced boys have really helped the younger ones out and enabled the likes of Tom Bayliss and Christian Saydee to do their jobs at the same time.”
The striker now continues his rehab intending to return in time for pre-season.