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Behind the 90 Minutes
Everyone in all walks of life will at some point face their share of challenges and setbacks. Tarek Elrich is no different.
After rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the Adelaide United defender was left with the reality of a long, arduous rehabilitation. But instead of wallowing in his misfortune, Elrich’s approach towards it has helped him with his outlook both on and off the pitch.
In the space of 12 months, Elrich had played an integral part in Adelaide United’s breakthrough A-League championship win, was on the fringe of Socceroos selection and widely regarded as one of the best right backs in the country. Life was rosy.
But all of that changed in April 2017 in a match against Melbourne City FC when he crashed to ground awkwardly.
The verdict – a ruptured ACL that would require a full knee reconstruction and lead to an ensuing 12 months on the sidelines. Just like that Elrich’s life had changed in an instant.
For Elrich, how it affected his mind was just as significant as the challenge his body was dealing with.
“A lot of it is a mental battle. We’re lucky to have good medical staff here at Adelaide United … but as I mentioned to people as I was going through my rehab, there are a lot of lonely times,” said Elrich.
“You see the boys training, having a laugh, playing games and enjoying themselves, and you’re stuck in the gym trying to push through the pain barriers and push your knee as far as you can.”
Elrich says a number of measures he put in place to improve the process and his mental state of mind made a huge difference to his recovery.
“I think it all just depends on how you approach it. For me, at first I was pretty much at our training facility in the gym every day and being there watching the boys train was really tough so I spoke with the coach and we changed things up,” recalls Elrich.
“I started going to a gym in the city for a change of scenery so it was a bit more relaxing and helped me escape from being around the rest of the team for a while because that’s the hardest bit – as a player you always want to play and when you’re in the gym at the club thinking you’re still nine months away it makes it extra hard.”
Elrich also directed a large part of his attention towards off field areas, especially ones that would help him for the day when he could not rely on playing football to survive.
“I was positive from day one and I thought this is maybe a time to focus on other things,” said Elrich.
“I built myself a coffee cart and took up some study doing a building construction site supervision course.”
“I started studying six months before I did my knee. The PFA encourages us to study and so I started doing this course before I did my knee. It’s a two-year course and I’m trying to punch it out as quickly as I can.
“Is building construction something I’m going to do for the rest of my life? I don’t know. It’s unlikely but it means I’ve got something behind me. I’ve got my coaches licence as well which was through the PFA so that’s something else that might come in useful after I finish playing.”
Elrich says the influence and presence of the PFA has really rammed home the importance of the transition into life post playing.
“The older you get the more you start thinking about these things. When I was younger I played with a lot of older players whose transition was a bit harder so that got into my head a bit as well,” said Elrich.
“They used to tell me to make the most of the assistance available to you, that there are resources and funds from the PFA to use and plenty of support so why not use it.
“We all think we’re going to have a 10-15 year career but you’re not guaranteed anything. I’m 31, I think I’m at a good age in my football career but I don’t know what’s going to happen beyond this season. I’m off contract, I’m coming back from a bad injury so you just never know.
“So I go into every day thinking this could be my last day playing football, that’s the attitude I take into every game because you’re not guaranteed the next game after that.
“When you’re playing you’re not thinking too much about what happens after but you speak to ex players and it’s a very hard transition.
“Sometimes it runs smoothly but often it doesn’t so it’s great that we’ve got some good support around us through the PFA who are encouraging us to study or find a path outside of football.”
Elrich says the way he approached his rehabilitation now was different to how he approached things as a younger player.
“When I was 18-19 and had groin issues I was always trying to push to play because I was always playing for a contract,” said Elrich.
“I was young, I had these dreams of going overseas and you get bullied a bit to play through pain. Now, because of my age and I’m off contract, yes I want to get back as quickly as I can to be able to get another contract but I’m trying to be smart about it.”
“I want to make sure when my time is up here in Adelaide and it comes to contract talks that I’m in the best condition I can be in because at the end of the day it’s about me, about making sure I’m in the right mindset and right physical condition.”
Elrich says the most vital trait during his ordeal was remaining positive and doing everything he could.
“When I was younger I probably wasn’t as professional in terms of getting home, icing up, wearing compression, recovering properly, whereas now because of my injury, because of my age and how long I’ve been around, all of those little one percenters make a difference.”
“I still had a life and went out and did things but whenever I was at home and any chance I had I was looking after my knee.”
After a tough 12 months, things are again looking up for the defender from Sydney’s west.
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