By Richard Dore,
In 2012, Leon Best was firing in Premier League goals for Newcastle – five years later, he was in hospital fighting off an infection that could have killed him.
The 31-year-old has endured a nightmare few years dealing with that illness and several injuries along the way, playing through the pain barrier to earn contracts.
In the last three years, the seven-cap Republic of Ireland striker has had spells at Rotherham, Ipswich and most recently, Charlton, where his deal expired back in January.
Best turned out five times for the Addicks before a New Year’s Day knee injury curtailed his time at Charlton and now finds himself rehabbing from knee surgery without a club to call home.
“My problems all stem from a hernia operation that went wrong a few years ago,” said Best, who began his career at Southampton.
“I’ve had five operations on my stomach since then.
“I got an infection that I was playing with, attached to my pubic bone and bladder. When I was at Rotherham, I had an operation and they thought they’d got rid of it.
“I got to Ipswich and they took another look and the infection hadn’t gone. They operated on me the next day and said if the infection had gone into my bladder, it would’ve killed me.
“I’d been playing through it, taking suppositories and stuff, trying to get through games, pushing my body through for people that didn’t really care.
“I had puss coming out of this abscess every day and I was playing football with it. It wasn’t normal.
“The puss coming out was actually saving me. My body had created a fistula, an opening for whatever poison was inside to come out. If not for that, it would’ve killed me.”
Best went on to two groin pumps for five weeks but couldn’t clear the infection so had abdominal surgery, whereby an abscess from behind the pubic bone was removed.
The Nottingham-born striker lost two stone in weight and was in intensive care for four days but a trip to see a specialist in the US in June 2017 aided his recovery and Best was fit enough to join Charlton that November.
Misfortune struck once again. Whilst on a two-month contract at The Valley, Best damaged knee ligaments for a second time in his career.
“I’m able to walk and I just need to get the swelling down on the LCL (lateral collateral ligament) on the outside of my left knee,” he added. “I’m coming up to four months now, so I’ll start running soon.
“I don’t have a club though. I’m not signed to anyone, so I’m doing the training myself.
“I’m really enjoying life at the minute, spending every day with my kids and my family, waking up to them and not having to rush off to training and stuff – I’m quite settled.
“I’ve got four young kids and they’re at an age where they’re loving football, so they want me to play again and get back into it so they can come to games.”
So having endured a trying last few years and enjoying life now, is Best at a decisive juncture in his career?
The former Coventry man said: “Everything looks good now, anyway. I’ve had no more infections and my stomach’s healed. I’m in the best health I’ve been in for years.
“At the moment, I’m in the garden playing football with the kids and my boys, who are six and four, are running rings around me, so it’s a matter of getting a lot fitter!
“Then, when I’m in good fitness, I can make a decision. I’m not even thinking about it right now.”