A FEW people can claim to have made sacrifices of one sort or another for Rangers' cause this year but none, surely, can match Francisco Sandaza when it comes to enduring physical pain.
Sandaza was back in a blue jersey against Annan Athletic the other night having missed 11 games because of a serious facial injury. From the distance of the stands he looked the same as ever, the body language and playing style unchanged, but on closer inspection he still carries the scars of the injury which carved a chunk out of his first season at Ibrox. It was an injury so serious that doctors told him he may have lost his left eye.
An ugly smack of heads with Shaun Hutchinson, the Motherwell defender, did for Sandaza when the clubs met in the Scottish Communities League Cup back in September. He suffered a fractured eye socket, a depressed fracture of the skull and a broken nose. He has yet to regain a full sense of feeling in one cheek and it may be a year until he does so.
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"It has been very frustrating because it was nothing to do with my legs or muscles, it was my face," said the Spaniard. "It was the bone in my face and I nearly lost my eye. The most important thing is that I can play again. Step by step I am getting confidence. It wasn't my best game [on Tuesday night] but I take it as a positive because we have won so I am happy for that."
Rangers did not need any Sandaza goals in their 3-0 defeat of Annan – so far he has scored only once for the club, against East Stirlingshire in August – but his 62-minute appearance was one of the most quietly satisfying of his career. Simply to play again required some bravery given what happened the last time he was on the Ibrox pitch.
It had been thought he would be out until the New Year so to return on December 18 was admirable. "I broke three bones and I had a fissure in my nose. The doctor said that I was a centimetre away from losing my eye. It was the most serious injury I have ever had. It can happen. I was unlucky and that's it.
"I was scared the day after the injury and my eye was incredible. Of course I was worried about playing again and about my future because I could have lost my sight. I could feel half of my face was numb and when I touch my face now, I can't feel it. The doctor said it takes a year and this is only three months. I am just happy to come back into the team as I didn't expect to come back as quickly as this.
"The most important thing is to be healthy [rather] than play football. It has been very tough being nearly three months out. This has been very important, playing my first game since the injury, but the most important thing was to win the three points. It was nice to get out there in front of that crowd at Ibrox. It was an incredible feeling."
Sandaza's sense of humour did not desert him during his long recovery. He was quick to confirm that his girlfriend had proved her loyalty to staying with him even when his face was as its disfigured worst. "My girlfriend, my family and everyone have been great with me," he said. "They have not rushed me to get back and have tried to help me as much as they can. When it happened my mum came over and my girlfriend stayed with me in the hospital. They tried to be positive, even though I knew it was serious. But my girlfriend still loves me. I was very handsome after the injury . . ."