Woodgate: Promotion with Boro would be bigger than playing for Real Madrid.

Had it really come to this? Jonathan Woodgate was sitting in the home of one of Real Madrid's physios while a wisened Spaniard attempted to cure his torn thigh muscle with boiled grass. Sadly, it had.

'When you're in that state of mind you will try anything. Anything to get you back playing,' says Woodgate, who had to wait more than a year to make his debut for Real.

'The doctors had ran out of ideas. Then this old fella came in. I don't know how he got involved with the club.

'He got this pack of grass out and started boiling it in a pan. He put it on my leg and wrapped Clingfilm around it. I thought, 'What's happening here?'. It was weird. Obviously, it didn't work.

'But I get injured, I've learnt to accept that. I've been all over the world and tried everything. I've spent three months in Australia, three months in New York, I've been to Philadelphia, I've been to Leicester!'

On reflection, Woodgate would admit that he has never found a cure for the injuries which have blighted a career deserving of 80 England caps as opposed to the eight he collected.

The classy centre-back is now 35 and set to play his final match when boyhood club Middlesbrough take on Norwich in Monday's Championship play-off final at Wembley.

He insists that he will delay any decision on his future until after the game, preferring not to make this weekend the 'Jonathan Woodgate Farewell Tour'.

But this, as we sit in a meeting room at Boro's Rockliffe Park training ground, feels like a time to contemplate both his pride and regret.

So how would he reflect on 17 years as a professional footballer? 'That they weren't as fulfilled as I wanted them to be, especially when I went to the biggest team in the world,' says the player whose 388 senior appearances have taken in Leeds, Newcastle, Real, Boro, Spurs and Stoke.

'I could have stayed at Madrid longer. I should have stuck it out. Without injuries, I don't know what I could have done, but it could have been better than it was.' Still, though, Woodgate is proud of his £13.4million move to the Bernabeu from Newcastle in 2004.

He reflects: 'I knew Real had been watching me but then they bought Walter Samuel and I thought, 'Ah well, that's done'.

'But I was walking down the 99 steps at Whitby harbour one day and I got a call from my agent saying Madrid were going to bid tomorrow – I nearly fell down the steps!' But Woodgate was to arrive in the Spanish capital already injured.

He says: 'On my first day they were training at the stadium and the physio saw my leg and probably thought, 'This needs a good massage for starters'.'

'I was then walking into breakfast through some swinging doors and Zinedine Zidane was walking towards me with a croissant and a coffee.

'I think he just thought, 'Who's this runner?'. He couldn't have thought I was a player, he probably thought I was a competition winner.

'When I was unveiled I did about three keep-ups on the pitch and just put the ball under my arm – keepy-ups aren't my forte.'

What is Woodgate's forte, rather, is a reading of the game and turn of foot which made him an equal of John

Terry and Rio Ferdinand. Indeed, he made his Three Lions debut at just 19.

He played in Champions League and UEFA Cup semi-finals and scored the winner for Spurs in the 2008 League Cup success over Chelsea at Wembley.

All of that, however, will be eclipsed by helping his beloved Boro back into the Premier League after a six-season absence.

Woodgate admits that his Boro-supporting dad, Alan - who first took him to Ayresome Park as a boy but sadly died on the eve of last season - would have been loving this latest chapter in his career.

'My dad would have been stood with his chest puffed out. He would have been buzzing,' he says.

'Out of everything I've achieved, promotion with Boro would probably be number one.

'It would be a fantastic achievement for the town. Everyone criticises the town and the people. They say it is a bad area, well it isn't, it is a lovely area and I love it.

'I might actually start crying. I am not that emotional but promotion might take it to the limit!' Woodgate, of course, has taken his body to the limit. A Wembley win would make it all worthwhile.

Source: Daily Mail

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