Simone Pepe has spoken of his optimism at making a successful injury comeback after spending almost a year away from first-team action due to a recurring thigh problem.
The midfielder’s last appearance for Antonio Conte’s men came 363 days ago in a Coppa Italia encounter against Lazio at Juventus Stadium.
That 20-minute cameo from the substitutes bench appeared to herald the beginning of a new dawn for the popular 29-year-old, but instead represented the first in a series of heartbreaking setbacks.
Speaking to Sky Italia and JTV, Pepe said: “For someone who plays football for a living, it’s difficult to be out on the sidelines. Unfortunately I’ve had this serious flexor problem which everyone thought would resolve itself after the operation.
“Instead there were other complications due to the scar tissue. Now it seems that everything’s OK. I’m running and touching the ball which leads me to believe I’ve got a good chance of returning.”
The winger was quick to acknowledge the importance of a strong support network in providing him with the motivation to tackle a long rehabilitation process.
And one particular gesture from a fellow team-mate will remain forever etched in his memory.
“Everyone’s been close to me throughout this period, from the club to the fans. Watching the team from afar is something that grinds you down, but I’ve always wanted to stay close to my team-mates. Just as they’ve helped me, I try to help them, with a smile and a joke.
“The day we won the Scudetto, when Vidal came to hug me after his goal, was truly touching. My character and family have given me the strength to never give in and also overcome the few doubts that crop up.”
Concluding with a view on the current campaign, Pepe expressed his belief that the unbreakable group bond fostered by Conte will enable the Bianconeri to embark on this season’s Scudetto charge with the utmost confidence.
“Our strength has always been the group itself and the new arrivals have blended in immediately. The team is very strong and when we put in a typical Juventus display, we can match anyone. We’ve done extremely well in the championship, even though we haven’t hit top gear quite yet.
“As far as our contenders are concerned, Roma have surprised me. It wasn’t easy for them following the end of last season, but they picked themselves up. I can only take my hat off to them for their start to the season.”