As Carl Valeri sits with his family in the afternoons following training, the small muscles beneath his toes hurt. It's a bittersweet reminder the hardest period of his career is about to come to an end.
"It motivates me, it angers me, it gets me excited, it gets me upset, it's a rollercoaster of emotions," says Valeri about the ankle ligament injury that left him watching from the sidelines last season as his club side Sassuolo earned promotion to the Italian top flight.
When he left Australia to join Inter Milan's youth academy 11 years ago a teenaged Valeri set himself three goals – start a family, play in a World Cup and experience Serie A football.
Valeri, who was one of the few revelations at a largely disappointing 2010 World Cup for Australia and is now the father of two young daughters, is on the verge of achieving that third and final goal.
But in June of 2012 the Canberra-born midfielder was starting to consider the possibility that maybe his dream wouldn't be realised. For two seasons in a row Sassuolo had made the Italian second division promotion play-offs only to fall agonisingly short.
Sassuolo's disillusioned owner, who'd brought them from the obscurity of Italy's semi-professional Serie C1 to the verge of Serie A, declared the team was up for sale.
The Neroverdi's top goal scorer, Gianluca Sansone, was transferred to Torino and Valeri, whose contract had expired, was preparing to move on.
"At the end of the season I did feel [that Sassuolo's chance had passed]," he says.
"I was out of contract and I was convinced I wasn't going to re-sign at Sassuolo. I thought everyone was going to leave, so I was looking at my options. Then when I saw that [Eusebio] Di Francesco signed, who I knew was a good coach and a good person, I started to think 'hang on a second'.
"Sassuolo were ringing me asking 'what are you doing, what are you doing?' I had other offers to think about, offers overseas. I had the players ringing me, which is a great feeling when your team-mates are ringing saying 'stay, stay, we don't want you to go'."
And so Valeri stayed. After injuring his calf in the first game of the season the Australian returned from that setback to score the opener in a 3-1 win over Ternana. It would be the only full 90 minutes of football he'd play that season.
On international duty in Seoul two weeks later – in his 50th game for the Socceroos no less – it all went wrong.
Just after half-time in the friendly against South Korea Valeri was brought down. At first glance it appeared to be nothing more than a foul.
"It felt different," he says of the incident. "I got up to run. I wasn't happy that I got a bad tackle so I wanted to get the guy back! I got up and felt sharp pains down the back of my leg and thought 'oh, no that's not good'."
And it wasn't. When Valeri was fouled he was turning one way and the tackle held his foot to the ground while the rest of his body continued to twist – a movement that tore a ligament between the tibia and fibula near his ankle.
It would be almost another six months before Valeri would be able to run again.
All of which meant the then 28-year-old missed most of the best season in his club's history and watched from the sidelines as his team-mates brought his dream of Serie A football closer.
"To get promoted I really felt a part of it because that was the feeling this club has - it's a family," said Valeri, now 29.
"It's not just the football, they like everyone to be involved in everything. We go out to dinner every two weeks as a team, which my wife isn't happy about, but it's a great feeling to have. More than friends."
Nonetheless Valeri's road to recovery has been both long and arduous. The first three months were filled with pain and frustration as he tried to avoid surgery, then the screw put in during a procedure in February meant he couldn't walk for two months. Now, as he learns to run and use a football again, Valeri remains optimistic.
"These eight months [out injured], it's a season I missed," he says. "It's nothing compared to a football career. If Sassuolo told me you're not going to play, you're going to be injured for the whole year, but you're going to be promoted I would have signed that contract. So everything worked out well. We qualified for a World Cup, I got promoted, I'm going to be playing in Serie A and at the end of the year going to Brazil. I've got a lot of motivation to get back from this injury."
If all goes well Valeri could be back training and playing with his team-mates by the end of September, but he is in no rush. Better to take his time and get everything right, for his next match won't just be another game of football, it'll be Serie A football. Finally.