Features. 'My motto is what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' - Emil Krafth's road to recovery

09 Mar 23
Read time
10 min

"For four or five months, I'd been going into the gym, or the bunker as I called it because you couldn't see training, so it was a big relief to step outside, put the football boots back on and just run."

Six months have passed since Emil Krafth last featured in a competitive fixture for Newcastle United, with the Swedish defender ruled out for the majority of this season after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury during the Magpies' Carabao Cup win against Tranmere Rovers in August.

"Of course, it has been up and down," Krafth told nufc.co.uk. "It was really hard at the beginning to accept that you were going to be out for such a long time. As soon as it happened, I was devastated for a few days and I didn't know where to go.

"An injury is never great timing but, for me, I was playing a lot from January until the summer. The team were doing really well and I'd say it was the best form of my career so far. I felt I had a good pre-season and had also extended my contract with the club."

The setback arrived at an unfortunate stage for the 28-year-old who, last term, played a key role in helping Eddie Howe's side avoid relegation from the Premier League to secure an 11th-placed finish, gaining the nickname "Krafu" from fans following his impressive displays at right-back in the process.

"It was my first big injury so I didn't know how to handle it," he said. "It was a long time waiting for surgery and I just wanted to have it done so that was a long two weeks, waiting for the swelling to go down on my knee and settling it before having surgery."

Forced to leave the pitch on a stretcher at Prenton Park following the severity of his injury, Krafth was later delivered harrowing news that the full-back would be sidelined for an estimated six to nine months.

He added: "There was contact with the other player but it wasn't a bad tackle. I was just unlucky. I had my foot planted in the ground and I got stuck and twisted my knee. At the point it happened, I felt like I'd broken my leg because I was in such pain but it was only for about three minutes.

"I then felt better afterwards so I didn't really know what to expect at first. After a while, I thought I could walk on it and when I came into the changing room it didn't feel too bad, but I had heard a click in my knee when it happened."

After signing a new one-year contract with the club as recently as July, Krafth told NUFC TV of "looking forward to the future at the club". The following month, his future in a black and white jersey would be cast into doubt.

"When we returned to Newcastle, I had a scan and I found out the results that I'd injured my anterior cruciate ligament. Of course, I was devastated and at the bottom at that point. I was sad. I didn't know what to do or say.

"I was so emotional as well when I was talking to people and realising everything. It wasn't just emotional for myself but for my friends, family and everyone involved. After the surgery, it was hard because I was in so much pain after the first few days.

"The first two months was tough as you couldn't do too much but, week by week and month by month, it got easier and I could do a little bit more every fortnight or so. It took a while to come over it but I then wanted to think more about my rehab and the process to getting back on the pitch as soon as possible."

In order to maintain a productive approach whilst completing gruelling rehabilitation, Krafth returned to his native country to carry out important work towards his recovery, visiting his parents and family members along with travelling to Tenerife.

The 42-time Sweden international, along with the rest of the Magpies' first-team squad, flew out to Riyadh in December for a week-long warm weather training camp, continuing his work in the gymnasium at Al Hilal's Saudi Club Stadium whilst his team-mates trained outside in the middle eastern sunshine.

"The doctor (Paul Catterson) told me it wasn't good for me to stay in one place all the time because of motivation and mental health," he explained. "That's why I went back to Sweden - to be with the family a bit more. I still worked out a lot but, after training, I could go and see my mum, dad and everybody.

"That helped me not to keep thinking about my injury. If I was here all the time, seeing the same people everyday for a long period, you'd have to try and split it up for your mental health. I then came back and went to Tenerife during the break ahead of the World Cup, then the team went to Saudi (Arabia) in December and I was able to go home for Christmas, too, which had helped me a lot.

"It's the first time I've had a long-term injury so you don't really know how to handle it. You don't know the rehab process and everything is new to you. However, my motto is 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' and I think I'm going to come back stronger than ever before."

Krafth's positive mindset throughout a challenging season off the pitch has been accompanied with continuous support from his family, team-mates and Magpies supporters and although there is plenty more work to undertake before stepping foot onto a football pitch, the vast words of encouragement provided a welcoming boost in his lengthy recuperation.

"I gained lots of support from my team-mates, staff and everybody connected to the club," he recalled. "My family and friends back home also played a big part. It meant a lot to me. They understood my situation and they tried to help me in the best way they could so I was very thankful for that.

"The fans have been really positive and tried to push me so I think everybody involved help me through the last six months. When you're down at the bottom, it's great to hear people always trying to be positive and being there for you no matter what.

"The messages from the supporters have been throughout the months since I got injured, especially at the beginning when everyone found out I'd injured my ACL. There were plenty of text messages and DMs on social media, wishing me well in my recovery."

In recent weeks, Krafth has advanced from the 'bunker' to running outside on the grass at the Magpies' Benton-based training ground, progress he could only have dreamt about in the early stages of his rehabilitation.

"For the last five months, it felt like I was in jail," he says. "I had to go in the gym everyday when the lads went outside and I could never see them training and have that fresh air or get some motivation.

"I know, though, that it is ultimately going to take me to the pitch so I had to put good effort in there first. Compared to now, it's night and day and being back out on the grass for the last couple of weeks, which has been great.

"The biggest thing for me was when I could start to run again, first on the Alter G (anti-gravity treadmill) but then being able to run outside these last few weeks which was a good milestone for me."

The opening steps had been slow at first, beginning to regain movement in his knee after months on crutches, before proceeding onto harder tasks as he gradually gained further strength over time.

He explained: "The first few weeks after getting injured, more or less, was trying to get extension back fully as fast as possible and then trying to get the flexion back, always aiming to minimise the swelling of my knee. I had soft tissue therapy, using compact braces, and there were a lot of small things I could do to help me further down the road.

"I'd been setting small targets like trying to get flexion and extension back and then it was being able to use the bikes again, walking on the treadmill to running on it and being out on the grass. The next one is being able to change direction on the pitch.

"My main target is to get back on the pitch with the lads. It's hard to say when I'm going to be back because it's an injury you should not stress. The more time you take, the stronger you get and you reduce the risk of getting a setback."

Howe's side have continued where they left off at the end of the previous campaign and the possibility of playing European football for the first time since the 2012/13 campaign remains firmly on course.

With just a sole minute of Premier League action this term, appearing as a stoppage-time substitute during a 3-3 draw against Manchester City at St. James' Park, Krafth's absence from the squad has been frustrating for large parts but he remains supportive of the team from afar.

"I'm always going to be there for the players and staff, trying to be there even though I can't be, trying to support them in a different way," he said. "I always want the best for Newcastle, its players, staff and the club.

"It's hard sitting in the stands and watch the matches when you can't do anything about it but I will still be pushing the lads on and be there for them, as they have for me during my recovery."

Named in Newcastle United's 25-man squad for the second half of the 2022/23 campaign, it is uncertain whether Krafth will recover in time to feature in a competitive outing this season but, once fully fit, he will no doubt push on towards regaining his place in the squad.

"As a player, you always want to be involved in the games so that's hard. It was hard at the start but, now, you kind of accept it a little bit more that you'll be out for a while.

"I can't wait to get back in the team. That's the biggest target. I'm not setting a specific date when I'll be back but I'm determined to get back and fight for my place again."

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