Steven Pienaar is determined to win back a place in the Tottenham first team after declaring that his injury "nightmare" is finally over.
Tottenham beat competition from Chelsea to sign Pienaar from Everton in January, but he has only been able to make 12 appearances since due to several injury problems.
The South Africa midfielder suffered concussion while clashing heads with team-mate Bongani Khumalo in February and he suffered from a niggling groin problem towards the end of last season.
He was confident the problem had gone away, but it flared up again in the club's final pre-season game against Athletic Bilbao and he had to undergo surgery as a result, ruling him out until mid-September. The 29-year-old suffered further heartache in his rehabilitation, having two setbacks which have kept him out ever since.
Pienaar says his time out was the worst of his career, but he now says he is fully fit and is ready to prove to the Spurs management that he deserves a place in the club's first XI.
After being passed fit for Thursday night's Europa League clash against Rubin Kazan, Pienaar said: "It's been the most difficult period of my career. When you join a new team, you want to start fully fit but I got injured quite early and it slowed down my progress.
"Before the operation we thought we would wait and see how the groin injury developed but it just got worse. I had the operation, things were going well, but then I had two setbacks. Sometimes when you try to get back early, that happens. But I'm over the nightmare now so hopefully I can get some minutes."
Pienaar always faced a huge battle with Gareth Bale to win a place in his preferred position on the left wing, and the centre of midfield was seen as the most likely place where he would break in to the Spurs XI.
The arrival of England midfielder Scott Parker lessened the chances of that happening, however, and manager Harry Redknapp has sung the praises of youngster Jake Livermore, who has excelled since making his first-team debut following his promotion from the club's academy.
Redknapp will not be in the dug-out in Kazan as he recovers from a heart procedure, but will be watching from his hospital bed, and Pienaar hopes to give the 64-year-old a reminder of his talents in tomorrow's Group A clash.
"When you get injured, you fall down the pecking order. You are basically the bottom of the pile," he said, "but you have to make sure you get fit, be patient and work hard. I have been working hard and now I'll try to win a place in the team."
Tottenham will guarantee their passage through to the last 32 of the Europa League with a victory on Thursday night.
Redknapp has made it clear that the Premier League is the club's priority this year and has blooded several youngsters in their previous wins over Shamrock and Rubin, and their draw at PAOK Salonika. While Luka Modric, Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor have not made the 2,000-mile trip to the Russian republic of Tatarstan, internationals Jermain Defoe, Sebastien Bassong and Roman Pavlyuchenko have travelled here.
Assistant manager Kevin Bond, who will take charge of the team in Redknapp's absence, insists the club are not treating the Europa League with contempt by fielding a second-string side and even has his sights set on winning the competition.
"Our priority for the coming season has to be to try to try to qualify for the Champions League, at least, but we would also like to win some silverware for the club," Bond said. "We would like to win a trophy for ourselves and for the supporters if possible and the Europa League is an opportunity for us to do that so we will not be disrespecting the competition and bringing out any second-rate players.
"We will play a side that we think can win in every game we play and we have brought a strong squad with us."