LEWIS MACLEOD’S first goal, scored against Montrose 10 years ago today, was one of many classy moments from the Rangers midfielder that hinted at hugely promising playing days ahead.

Sadly, although he will forever hold dear those Ibrox memories living his childhood dream, MacLeod’s was a career unfulfilled.

A decade on, he’s been forced to retire at 28 following a cruel succession of injury blows.

MacLeod has admitted defeat with medial knee ligament damage sustained at Plymouth.

He confesses to enduring much private suffering - mentally and physically - since leaving Rangers for Brentford in January 2015.

MacLeod’s right knee was operated on in June last year but despite his exhaustive efforts with Rangers physio Steve Walker, he’s called it quits.

MacLeod admits fearing a premature end to his career for a long time.

He said: “I’d always been injury-prone, if you want to say that. Never small injuries, all out long periods.

“A grade three hamstring tear, heart problem, torn ACL and torn medial ligament.

“You almost brace yourself for the worst and think your career may end early.

“Honestly, I’ve had that fear from when I left Rangers. And when I eventually got fit, I always had it in mind I was never the same as before.

“I’ve prepared myself for this. Unfortunately, I’ve got to a point where I can’t continue.

“The surgeons told me they’ve exhausted all avenues, other than another operation.

“But they’d no idea if it would work or benefit me at all. It might even set me back.

“If I struck the ball or changed direction, just having a kick-about with pals, I got pain, went back to square one and was stuck there for months.

“I’m still relatively young to play football but, with perhaps another year out after surgery with no idea how it’s going to go, if I’m going to do other things, it’s another year out of that.

“I’ve still got a love for football. I’d like to be involved in some capacity, maybe recruitment or coaching.

“I don’t know how soon that will be. The last 18 months have been dedicated to rehab.

“Now is a transitional period, seeing what I want to do and taking the steps to go and do that.”

Midway through his third season at Rangers in the Championship, MacLeod’s stunning form won him a place in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad.

Yet four weeks later, December 2014, he picked up the injury that precipitated the decline - a hamstring tear at Alloa.

It didn’t deter then Brentford boss Mark Warburton from a £1 million signing but, on comeback in west London, he tore it again.

The upward career trajectory stalled for good. MacLeod played a paltry eight minutes for the Brentford first team in the opening 18 months.

Fraser Mackie celebrates his first Rangers goalLewis Macleod (centre) at Brentford

MacLeod explained: “One thing that annoys me was the timing it all started to happen and the realisation I was never going to reach the levels I should’ve reached.

“I was playing really well for Rangers, got a Scotland call-up. Just being around the national team, showing I could handle that, was great.

“But that’s all about what could’ve been. I did my hamstring just after and that’s what killed me.

“I count myself very lucky in the way I broke in at a young age, albeit in the Third Division.

“Playing for the club me and my family supported all our lives is something I’ll always cherish.

“I’ve great memories being a Rangers player. My debut, playing at a full Ibrox, scoring some good goals.

“I’d love to have come back and played for Rangers in the Premiership. It’s great to see them back where they should be.”

MacLeod never did wish to leave Rangers at the age of 20 but finances dictated the need to push the transfer through.

Lonely and a long way from home, the physical issues triggered mental struggles.

MacLeod admits desperation to justify what was a significant fee for the up-and-coming Bees triggered poor decision-making.

He admitted: “When the manager asked how I felt, I found myself almost lying, saying I was good even though, deep down, I wasn’t.

“Brentford got to the play-offs against Middlesbrough, I was on the bench.

“I don’t know if it was because they’d paid the money for me, they wanted people to see me involved.

“I kid you not, I couldn’t run over a jog. A midfielder went down in five minutes and I got told to warm-up.

“I thought: Please God, don’t put me on. I knew I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

“It was a horrible feeling; the most stressed I’ve ever been. I was pretending to myself, pretending to the physios.

“It was the wrong thing to do. But I felt cheeky because they’ve paid this money for me. I felt I owed them.

Fraser Mackie celebrates his first Rangers goalLewis Macleod in action for Plymouth

“I’d do too much too soon. That might’ve affected me long term. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I went into a game feeling good - either with hamstring or knee.

“But I never actually let anyone know that. I found that draining. I saw a sleep coach as I was up all hours of the night without any focus when injured.

“I think I got to the point where I started to believe lies I told myself. I find it hard to make sense of. But I did it for so long that it became second nature.”

Thirteen matches into his comeback under Dean Smith, he damaged his cruciate knee ligament at Loftus Road and was out for another 16 months.

MacLeod signed for Wigan in summer 2019 but was restricted to 12 games after falling out of favour with Paul Cook.

He joined Plymouth for 2020/21 but 17 outings were blighted by the knee injury that’s claimed his career.

There was one crucial positive at Plymouth, just before MacLeod opted to return home for rehab without a club. His manager, Ryan Lowe, set up sessions with a psychologist.

“It was the first time I’d let go of everything I’d held in for years,” MacLeod admitted.

“A massive weight off my shoulders. Six years dealing with it all myself and not really speaking about how I felt.

“She got me to take her through my career from 16 and highlighted anything she classed as ‘trauma’. There were 19 traumas in 10 years.

“I hadn’t realised the effect they might’ve had on me. At that point she said: ‘I’m not surprised you’re taking some time away from football’.”