Michael Ngoo is back in professional football after two years out injured and he’s ready to prove he’s ready for the challenge.
The former Liverpool striker suffered a horrific injury caused by a poor Virgil van Dijk tackle when playing his fifth game for Kilmarnock, ending his spell in Scotland before it had got going.
“We played Celtic at Parkhead and I think in the last two minutes, Van Dijk came into the back of me and he injured me. It was very bad injury; some bones were out of place and needed to be screwed back in," Ngoo told ITV News.
“It wasn’t something that would be fixed over a few months, it was a long healing process, so I had to have two operations on the ankle. Mentally it’s frustrating, as one minute you’re at Liverpool and training with massive players and then you’re injured, so it’s like “wow, where do I go from here?”.
“I knew I wasn’t go to kick a ball for the rest of my time at Kilmarnock, so you’ve got to go back to the beginning to wise up again and that’s what I’ve done and now new doors have opened for me.”
A few months later Ngoo managed one final appearance for Kilmarnock, but the impact of the injury would be devastating for the man who moved to Anfield as a 16-year-old for a fee of £250,000 from Southend United.
After two years of surgery and rehabilitation, Ngoo has joined League One Oldham with a point to prove to himself and the world.
It’s been a tough road back for a player who shone as a teenager at Southend, leading him to be courted by Liverpool and Manchester United. A surgeon told him he may never play professionally again, a thought Ngoo had to work hard to keep out of his mind.
“Before I had the op, the surgeon said it’s a possibility I wouldn’t play again, but with God all things are possible.
“I just kept my faith strong and I kept telling myself I will get back out there to show people what I’m fully capable of doing, it was always in the back of my mind but I tended not to think about it, I tended to think about the positive outcome of waking up in the morning, going to the gym to see either Lester or for the personal fitness regime and focused my mind on getting back and I give all thanks to God.”
Many hours of training alone have brought Ngoo back to the professional game, as he showed his determination to return to the game he grew up with. He went back to the grassroots to work one-on-one with mentor Lester Thomas and spent long hours at Canary Wharf on a personal training regime.
The result was a short-term move to Bromley where he joined in training three days a week and made a return to action in November. He played for just 12 minutes, but it broke down a mental barrier for the striker, who once again realised he could play competitive football.
Hard work has paid dividends for the former England youth striker, as he’s been given the chance to prove himself at Oldham.
A hat-trick and an assist while training with the club in a game against Bury understandably impressed new boss John Sheridan who ensured he inked a contract until the end of the campaign after the club had a transfer embargo lifted.
“Talent speaks for itself but I have hunger and the drive for success. If I woke up every morning and thought it was over for me, then it would be the end. A lot of people fade away into the background and just accept it’s not happening and give up football and find a different profession.
"I came up to Oldham, trained for a couple of days, played in a reserve match against Bury, I managed to notch a hat-trick, assist one and we beat them 5-3. That did me a whole world of good for my confidence, it helped me mentally, too, proving that I could do whatever I put my mind to I could achieve.”
During his five years at Anfield, which also included loan spells at Hearts, Yeovil and Walsall, Ngoo was a frequent scorer for the youth team and reserves, playing alongside Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom. His path to the first-team was blocked by Fernando Torres and then Luis Suarez, but that disappointment is behind him, as Ngoo is just happy to be playing professionally again.
The London-born forward has four months of League One football ahead of him in the Lancashire. The challenge of keeping the Latics in the division is one he relishes. New Oldham boss Sheridan has brought in a number of players to help push the team up the league.
“The manager hasn’t been here long and he’s been getting used to players, but since I’ve been training with him he’s been very very good with all the boys.
“He told us that there’s a lot of opportunities, some of the players who have been at the club haven’t been performing to their full potential and the new boys are hungry to show the manager that we want to be playing week in, week out and bring the club back to where it should be.
“The manager is very interactive with the players and we all just want to prove him right.”
An hour-long debut in an away defeat at Shrewsbury might not be everyone’s idea of a dream come true, but after two years away from the sport, Ngoo couldn’t be happier.
“It was a big relief, it was amazing for me. I was gutted that we didn’t win because looking back it’s not a game we should have lost. After the game, I felt tired after 60 minutes of playing League One football again, but inside me it felt amazing and I just want to go again.”
Whether Ngoo is part of a great escape or not, he knows he has received an unexpected chance to make good on the promise he had as a teenager and to rid his mind of an injury nightmare.
“This is a massive opportunity for me in my career. If we stay up and I do the business there will hopefully be another contract sitting on the table for me, which would give me a whole year to get my head down and work every day to try and move up again. It is a massive test for me. I’ve been through the worst, so it can only get better.”