Few players earn as much stick from Liverpool fans as Jose Enrique does for reasons completely unrelated to his on pitch performance. The ribbing is largely good natured and usually related to his over enthusiasm for anything and everything that might involve FIFA, shirtlessness, or hanging out with Suso, but the affable left back's public persona in the last year masked the deep challenges the player faced when he was forced to miss the bulk of the season through injury.
"It has probably been the most difficult year of my life, in football terms," the Spaniard confessed to the club's tour website. "Now I have put it behind me and I was so happy to be back with the team. I feel quite good. I still have to get my fitness back because after the first half, I was happy that the manager changed me. But I'm so happy to be back with the team."
After his performance versus Roma in Boston, many felt Enrique looked exceedingly rusty for a player who had theoretically been keeping fit while rehabbing over the last ten months. Liverpool's most experienced left back obviously still needs to gain the match fitness that eludes any player who hasn't competed in months, but he believes that a pre-season tour in the middle of an American summer is just the ticket.
"It's harder, of course, because the heat is a lot more difficult," he explained. "But I love this weather. It's hard and during the game the other day, it was hard. But at the same time, it's good for us as well, because when you go back to England it's a lot easier. Ryland [Morgans, head of fitness and conditioning] works us very hard in every training session.
"We run a lot and we are improving our fitness. Of course we feel a lot fitter. Personally, I feel even more confidence. After 10 months out, to be back with the team and training with my teammates was difficult at the start because of my confidence. But now I'm completely fine. I played 45 minutes the other day and I hope I can play even more in the next few games."
As Liverpool creep closer to the season kick off versus Southampton, Brendan Rodgers will likely begin setting lineups that are as close as possible to what he might be hoping to use regularly, both domestically and in continental competition. Finding a way for Jose Enrique to get up to speed for the duration of an entire match is the next step, and hopefully with more minutes the rustiness so many are concerned about will begin to fall away.