By Brian Doogan
Christian Benteke believes he will come back bigger, stronger and better than ever as he continues his recovery and rehab from the ruptured Achilles tendon injury he suffered in April.
The 23-year-old Belgian international striker was ruled out of the World Cup after sustaining his injury in training at Bodymoor Heath two days ahead of the Barclays Premier League home defeat against Fulham.
His resolve to return to fitness sooner than the six-month prognosis immediately issued by Villa's head of sport and exercise science Roddy MacDonald was reflected most conspicuously in the quiet dedication he demonstrated in isolation last week on tour in Texas.
Benteke trained alone, but with the kind of zeal and focus which has netted him 29 goals in 60 Premier League appearances since he made his Villa Park debut in the 2-0 victory against Swansea in September 2012.
He remains philosophical about the length of time he may continue to be sidelined, but his determination to reach new heights when he does step back on the big stage is implicit in his daily demeanour.
"Once, twice a day I am in the gym, it just depends," he said in a small annex off the main lobby of the St Regis hotel ahead of the team's return from Houston.
"I am not running outside yet. When the injury happened the doctor said that I have to be out for six months.
"Of course, I still believe I can come back more quickly but if it is six months and another month ... I have to take my time. It's a bad injury and I don't have to rush myself. I have to do the right treatment.
"When the doctor said directly that maybe it's going to be six months I was prepared for that. Six months is six months, I can't change it.
"But what I can do is work as hard as I can to make sure that I come back better than before. Of course, I believe this. Will I be able to come back bigger, stronger, better than before? Yes - not bigger maybe, but better!
"Always you seek to improve, as a player, as a person. To do better, this is my goal, to do better than the two past seasons.
"First I have to focus on my rehab and then I have to do better for the team.
"The Villa fans have been a great inspiration and I have received lots of good wishes back in Belgium from fans there, too. This is important to me.
"The manager gave me three months to go back to Belgium to spend time with my family and friends and to begin my recovery there.
"I went and spent three months in Belgium and that was enough. It was oerfect because I need also to see the group and to be close to them.
"For me, it was great to be in Texas with my team-mates and to see and speak to the Villa fans who were there also. I will continue to work as hard as I can so I can make the best contribution I can when I return to the team."
For the quiet, reticent Benteke, the agony of missing out on the World Cup in Brazil was overwhelming initially.
Surrounded by family and friends back in Liege, he became reconciled to his fate and now he is resolute in his desire to make this heartbreak a driving force in his comeback to the game.
"Yes, there were tears when [the injury] happened but it's life," he reflected. "It was hard, of course, but life is hard sometimes. This then has to be your motivation.
"I never knew this injury before but I knew immediately that I was hurt and when I fell down it was horrible. It was a bad feeling, a bad sensation.
"It was like somebody shot me. It was very painful.
"The noise was strange for me and I thought maybe it's just a little bit ... I don't know what on my body, but I thought maybe it's not serious. I did not know it was a big problem. In fact, I tried to stand up but I couldn't do it.
"We still needed to win games here at Villa and finish the season strongly and, of course, the World Cup came into my mind, too.
"The hardest thing for me was knowing I couldn't do what I love. Playing football is not just about the World Cup, it is playing football. Now the World Cup is done but the league is going to start again.
"I have a good feeling because I missed this.
"It will be the best feeling in the world to be able to play football again. When you give a ball to a kid he's happy and even for a man the feeling never changes.
"The thing is I have had to be patient. There is still some hurt in my mind because I missed the World Cup.
"I remember calling my father, Jean-Pierre, and it was a difficult call to make because my family were going to travel to Brazil to support me and the Belgian team. In the end they did not go and my father said to keep my head up and to start working, which is what I did.
"The first game against Algeria was hard to watch because I was thinking maybe I could be there. I wasn't there so it was hard for that first game but afterwards I was like every Belgium fan - I was behind the team.
"I watched the games at home with my family and my friends and I was able to enjoy the experience as a fan.
"Belgium did very well I think and all of the country are proud of them and proud of what they did.
"I was working, beginning my recovery and rehab, but I watched the games. I was with my family and I was working too so it was good. I needed to be with my family at that time, not alone, because it would have been very hard otherwise.
"For three months I just lived like I wasn't injured. I was with my family, I went to the cinema, I took care of my little sister and my little brother, I was with my cousin - I was normal, like I wasn't injured.
"I stayed in contact with the club, speaking with the manager and the doctor and the physio. Two physios came over to see me, the doctor was there when I got my surgery. It was important to stay close to the club and everyone was great.
"This is the first really bad injury I've ever had.
"It's hard because you can't play football. Like I said, you cannot do what you want, to play, to do the thing that you love. To see other players playing and enjoying it is frustrating.
"But all of Belgium has been supporting me and I know it's the same with Villa fans as well. But not even just the world of football - other people have been supporting me, too, which is great. I didn't expect that.
"Charles [N'Zogbia] has been through the same injury, of course, and it is great to see him back so strong and playing well. This is encouragement to me.
"Every day also I see Libor [Kozak] as he has been recovering from injury, too. He wants to do his best and me also. I want to do my best, so we help each other.
"I am looking forward to not only playing with him, but with Benty, Andi [Weimann], Gabby [Agbonlahor], with everybody.
"I will be so happy when I am playing football again."