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Football: RED ALERT; Two-year agony over as Milan ace roars back.

Byline: KEIR RADNEDGE THE BIG INTERVIEW

AC MILAN attack the new year's double challenge of Serie A and Champions League with "a great new signing" according to coach Carlo Ancelotti.

But the Italian giants have not had to jump through the transfer window to find their man. He has been on their books for two years.

The trouble is, Argentine playmaker Fernando Redondo has been injured for all that time.

Now, at last, he has recovered from career-threatening knee problems and is ready to bring his towering talent to bear - just as he did with Real Madrid's Champions League-winning teams in 1998 and 2000.

Redondo is 33 but believes his two years on the sidelines have "frozen" his football age and given him a renewed zest and ambition. He also has a financial target because he refused to accept his pay for much of the time he was out injured.

Redondo signed in July 2000 and wrecked his knee a few weeks later. He made a long-delayed comeback last month in an Italian Cup tie against Ancona. Now Serie A beckons - at last.

QUESTION: What happened to you. Were you injured in training or a pre- season friendly?

A: Neither. I joined Milan in the summer of 2000 and came to the training centre at the start of August. I did a physical test on the "moving carpet" which we used then. It was a 12-minute stamina test but when it was almost over I felt something go in my right knee.

I assumed it was just a minor muscle strain. I rested it and after four or five days I returned to training with the rest of the squad.

Then, just before the end of a training game I changed direction, put my weight on the knee - and it collapsed beneath me. It wasn't until after five or six weeks of X-rays and tests that I was told the ligaments had been virtually ripped away.

Q: It's been suggested that Madrid let you go because they knew you were carrying a serious knee problem. Do you believe that?

A: No. That's a total and utter lie. I had started back in pre-season with Madrid for several days before the move to Milan went through. I had played a friendly match and I underwent the most intense medical of my career before I signed.

Q: What was the worst part of being injured?

A: I think not knowing how it would all turn out. But I must say I made mistakes. I tried to hurry back to fitness and trying the short cuts caused more problems with the knee. I had to have it rebuilt and that took three operations in Italy, in Madrid and in Buenos Aires.

A footballer learns to be confident about himself and his ability but when you are out injured for a time all that confidence drains away. Suddenly you feel very vulnerable.

A year ago there was nothing in my life apart from the injury. Now I can run and turn and kick the ball and it doesn't hurt any more. It's like time has stood still.

Q: Is it true you asked Milan not to pay you while you were injured?

A: Yes. It didn't seem fair. They had signed me to play football and though it wasn't my fault I felt I was letting them down, taking money under false pretences.

The club said no initially but I insisted - so that's what happened. I'm not a mercenary. Football has a lot of problems with violence and racism but there is room in the game for humanity as well.

Q: Have you always taken the moral high ground?

A: I've been called an "intellectual footballer", whatever that means. I believe that every day is an opportunity to learn something new. You have choices in life. I make my decisions and stick by them.

For example, I was picked for Argentina's World Cup squad in 1990 but I knew I wasn't going to be in the starting line-up, I would just be another squad member, so I preferred to stay home.

I could have come back when Daniel Passarella was manager for the 1998 World Cup. I was in great form. But he had particular ideas about discipline and wanted me to have my hair cut. I didn't see what that had to do with playing football so I said no again.

Q: What did you hate most about being injured - apart from the obvious?

A: For one thing, I couldn't stand watching football on television. I watched Milan's matches but that was really hard. That's why I want to make up now for lost time.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 13, 2003
Words:782
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