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Celtic midfielder Nir Bitton reveals how he wept when specialist told him he was sidelined for year

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'I phoned my wife straight away': Celtic midfielder Nir Bitton reveals how he wept when a specialist told him he was sidelined for a yearNir Bitton had a shock when a niggling knee injury would rule him out for a yearHe has admitted he rang his wife and broke down in tears when he found out The midfielder is gradually nearing a return to first team action for Celtic 

For Nir Bitton, another day brought another niggling injury. 

Another flight followed by another visit to a specialist to get to the root of why the swelling in his knee refused to settle down.

'I remember I had the meeting with a specialist guy in London,' recalls the Celtic midfielder.

Nir Bitton was shocked to find his knee injury would rule him out for almost a year

'I went there not even thinking about the possibility of a serious injury or surgery. 

'I thought I was just going for his opinion on how to get rid of the swelling and stuff.

'And then he looked at my scan and said: "You need to be out for nine to 12 months."'

Bitton is a stoic, no-nonsense Israeli. What happened next was unexpected.

'I started to cry. I phoned my wife straight away and said to her: "I think you need to look for a job, I'm finished."'

It's now 11 months since the midfielder last kicked a ball for Celtic, replacing Dedryck Boyata in a 1-0 defeat to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on February 3, 2018.

The heat and inflammation in his knee had bothered him since the turn of the year, injections and anti-inflammatories doing nothing to solve the problem. The London specialist not only sorted Bitton's knee, he seems to have had a profound impact on the player's life.

The Israeli midfielder is finally nearing a return to full fitness and is like a new man

Guarded and cautious around the press, conversations with the Israeli used to be restricted to title races and the next three points. Described by Brendan Rodgers as a 'really influential player', Bitton is not only akin to a new signing. He actually seems like a new man.

'I was expecting another injection maybe. A few weeks out of the team or something,' says the 27-year-old.

'So I cried and I couldn't control it. For me, this is the thing I like to do most.

'People on the outside might not understand that. But, to us, playing football is everything. And when you are not playing sometimes, at least you are healthy.

'You sit there watching your team-mates doing well, winning games and trophies and you know you are not part of it and can't do anything about it.

'But, you know, when I look back at it, it's good for me because it was a challenge. It made me realise there are more important things in life.

'You have to appreciate everything you have.

'It's been a long time, 11 months, and when you're out for that time you realise you have to appreciate every minute you spend on the pitch.'

Bitton has admitted he went to some dark places during his long spell in rehabilitation

Events around Leigh Griffiths have cast the mental health of footballers into sharp focus. When a player earns tens of thousands of pounds every week, drives a fast car and lives with a former model in the biggest house in town, their problems seem relative in comparison to mere mortals

Yet Bitton admits he went to some dark places during his rehab. Forced to announce his retirement due to a hip injury, Andy Murray wept for a career lost this week. Bitton harboured many of the same insecurities and feelings of loss.

'Well...you always have these thoughts when you get a long-term injury.

'Put the money aside and this is what we love to do most.

'You can ask any athlete you like. When you finish your career, it's not the same.

'It doesn't matter how much money you earn or how many big houses you have or how good a life you live.

'When you can't do something you like, it's just depressing and it makes you think the worst.

'A lot of people from the outside look and think: "Ah, they earn good money, they have a great life...

'Sometimes it's not like that.'

The 27-year-old has eagerly embraced his charity work while playing for Celtic

At Christmas, Celtic players visit Glasgow's hospital for sick children and, as a father of a two-year-old daughter, Bitton has always willingly given his time to provide some cheer for gravely ill kids. Yet this year the experience felt more intense and personal.

'Before I got this injury and felt like this, I would see people hurt themselves or get sick and injured and, if I'm honest, I didn't think too much about it.

'You feel sorry for them, of course. But you don't *really* feel it.

'It's only when you get something like this yourself that you see that these other people are warriors.

'I appreciate now that these kids are the strongest people in the world.

'After this injury, I start to appreciate the small things in life now.

'I see these boys and girls there unwell and I appreciate life itself.

'In one second you can lose everything and it won't come back.

'These guys, for me, are an inspiration. They should be an inspiration to everyone.'

Bitton's return to the first team will be carefully managed to prevent any further aggravation

A return to first-team action will be phased and staged. After a year on the sidelines, his return to the training pitch was a source of relief and intense emotion, but Celtic will protect him from himself.

'It will be emotional for me, it will be emotional for my family.

'They have been part of it with me and suffered a lot in the first few months.

'I appreciate all their help and they deserve it.

'My two year old daughter, Emma, is too young to understand it all now.

'But she is starting to realise. She has watched a few Celtic games this season and I have a neighbour called Tom Rogic so she watches him on television and she's like: "Goal, goal..."

'She will be excited to see her daddy playing on the pitch and I want to make her proud.

'I have to make sure I am ready to go and be Nir Bitton once again, winning trophies.'

The midfielder has played a part in some of Celtic's biggest European nights

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