Sanchez Watt has admitted that a lack of professionalism was to blame for his recent hamstring strain and said a season in the Championship with Leeds United was opening his eyes to the physical requirements of top-level football.
The on-loan Arsenal winger accepted responsibility for failing to complete the necessary work on an existing injury before sustaining further damage against Portsmouth last month and so condemning himself to more time in the treatment room at Thorp Arch.
Watt made his comeback on Tuesday night, appearing as a substitute in United’s 3-3 draw with Barnsley and a concerted attempt by United’s physiotherapy staff to strengthen a problematic hamstring has ensured his availability for the Championship run-in.
The 20-year-old, who missed two months of the season towards the end of 2010, is being treated before and after full training sessions and said the experience had improved his understanding of the commitment required to complete a full domestic term.
“My hamstring’s not a problem now but when it happened the first time, I got back fit and then forgot about it,” he said. “I started training again as normal.
“The coaches were telling me to do extra work but I only did bits and bobs. I pulled it for a second time and I won’t be making that mistake again. It’s a learning process for me.
“What I know now is that when an injury is healed, you’ve still got to keep control of it and stay on top of it. It can come back any time.
“I’m doing extra work before and after training because I’ve got to get my hamstring stronger. I’m stronger in the mind too.
“I’ve been doing one-to-one sessions with the physios so there are no excuses. It’s quite tough either side of hard training sessions but if I want to be a professional player at a high level then I need to put the work in.”
Watt’s season with Leeds has been a success, impressive in spells but affected by fitness problems. His league appearance against Barnsley on Tuesday was his 15th.
The winger played in both of United’s FA Cup ties with Arsenal last month after his parent club surprising granted him permission to take part but he experienced minor problems with his hamstring in the replay at Elland Road.
Watt then suffered a more serious strain against Portsmouth at Fratton Park three days later.
“I felt it in the Arsenal game but the adrenaline was flowing and you don’t want to step out of a game like that,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, the type of game that might never come round again.
“But against Portsmouth my hamstring tore.
“I’ve missed out on a lot this season and missed games that I wanted to play in, at grounds I’ve never been to before. I got into the team, got injured, worked my way back in and then got injured again. Now I’ve got to do it all over again, but a lot of this is in the head, a psychological thing and I’m there mentally.”
Manager Simon Grayson, who had enough confidence in Watt to name him in his starting line-up on the first day of the Championship term, said: “His hamstring’s a grey area but he’s come back very strong and sharp.
“We do a lot of work with players pre-training and after training, making sure they’re in top condition and strengthening muscle areas where they’ve had problems in the past.”
Arsenal have dispatched scouts to every one of Watt’s appearances for Leeds, a diligent assessment programme in keeping with one of the most professional clubs in the country.
Watt shone during the initial FA Cup third-round tie between Leeds and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and has contributed positively to United’s season.
The annoyance for him is an injury record which has prevented him from contributing often enough. But he is still pleased to have completed his latest process of rehabilitation in time to affect the club’s chances of promotion to the Premier League.
“It’s been a great season,” he said. “A lot of people doubted us at the start but we’re up there.
“I’d say it’s been the best season of my career so far. It’s intense and every game feels like a big one. When I was in the reserves at Arsenal, there were times when you knew you wouldn’t get a chance but I know here that I can fight for my place.
“Playing in front of big crowds and showing what you can do at a high level is what you look for.
“You can have the best game of your career for the reserves but people sometimes say ‘it’s only the reserves’. They don’t always take notice.”