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The great comeback of Guillermo Molins

Can a serious injury ever be a blessing in disguise? Perhaps it would be a bit of an exaggeration to say so, but the case of Swedish midfielder Guillermo Molins is one that provides strong evidence for the claim.

After missing two valuable years of his career and seeing his dreams shattered, Molins was being written off completely, but he came back to his beloved Malmo, led them to championship title and became the best player in the Swedish Allsvenskan. Having already overcome immense difficulties thanks to strong will and self-belief, at the age of just 25, the best part of the unlikely script might well be ahead of him.

Molins’ personal decline began in the summer of 2011, when he completed his transfer from Malmo to Belgian side Anderlecht. One of the best players in the Malmo side that won a dramatic title in 2010, overcoming a strong challenge from local rivals Helsingborg, his contract was inexplicably allowed to run down and Anderlecht got their man for almost no price when he decided to move on to a new challenge.

Full of tricks and imagination, the speedy winger was supposed to take the Belgian league by storm, but fate decided otherwise. The Swede ruptured knee ligaments just 10 days after his arrival, at the very start of his first friendly against amateur opposition, and was ruled out for the season.

It was a cruel blow, but Molins didn’t intend to give up. He worked tirelessly during his rehabilitation process, and was fit enough to play a small part in the final few fixtures as Anderlecht wrapped up the league title. The Swede got a warm ovation from the home fans on his full debut, and was preparing to impress ahead of the new season, but the situation changed for the worse again. Ariel Jakobs, the coach who asked to sign him and believed in him, left the club; John van den Brom, the Dutchman who took over, didn’t rate Molins’ talents and the winger barely got a chance to prove himself.

A chance for salvation came when Betis decided to sign Molins on loan in January 2013, with an option to buy him in the summer. The deal was arranged by the club’s much criticised sporting director Vlada Stosic (before he was sacked), but then-coach Pepe Mel didn’t appear to be interested in the player. As a result, another half a season of Molins’ career was wasted in a desperate fashion. He only played four times as a late substitute in the league, as well as facing Atletico Madrid’s Felipe Luis for 45 minutes in Copa del Rey, and was unfairly labelled a total failure before it was even possible to judge him.

Molins returned to Anderlecht and his future seemed bleak. He hadn’t played for two long years, his fitness was in question and the coach seemingly didn’t plan to use him. “Molins is unable to convince me,” Van den Brom stated. The Swede knew that his career was in very serious danger as it appeared that nobody wanted to take a gamble on him, and he decided to take what could be considered as a backwards step to his former club Malmo. It turned out to be a giant leap forwards.

At the time, Malmo were in a delicate position in the league, involved in a tight fight at the top of the table. With South African striker Tokelo Rantie sold to Bournemouth, the squad was rather thin, and everyone welcomed Molins with open arms. The coach, Rikard Norling, was delighted. “Guillermo knows the club and won’t need any time to adapt,” he said, but even the most loyal fans couldn’t be sure about their former idol’s fitness level. To their pleasant surprise, Molins proved to be in a better shape than ever.

In his very first game in August, he trotted onto the field as a second-half substitute and scored in a 4-1 win at Kalmar. Used in a somewhat unfamiliar role as a second striker, Molins simply flourished. He ended up with eight goals in just 11 games, as Malmo reclaimed the title for the first time since 2010. It was obvious that success would have been impossible without him.

“I lost the joy of playing football, but now I’ve got it back,” Molins said in October in an interview with Svenskafans. Even though he didn’t perform in Belgium and Spain, the Swede still learned a lot watching others and polished his all-around abilities, which says a lot about him as a person. As Johan Flinck of Aftonbladet newspaper told ESPN FC: “He used his time in Belgium very well, developing new skills. He can now maintain higher tempo during matches, and all the aspects of his game have improved.”

It is not surprising that Molins possesses such a strong mentality. His background is rather unusual -- Guillermo was born in Montevideo, but his parents fled the country when he was one year old. They ended in Sweden by pure chance -- it was the first available flight at the airport -- and he has always felt different.

However, he overcame these problems as a youngster and proved he is a real fighter after a big blow at the 2009 European Under-21 Championship, which took place in Sweden. Molins had a good game in the semifinal clash against England that ended in a 3-3 draw, but missed the last penalty in the shootout that ended his team’s hopes. That didn’t affect his form for his club, though -- quite the contrary.

His character endeared him to the fans, for whom he embodies the spirit of Malmo, and it was only natural that Molins became the undisputed leader in his second term at the club and was named the team captain by the new coach, Age Hareide, in January. He was also given the No. 10 jersey vacated by Jiloan Hamad, who moved to Hoffenheim, and the new season started in the best possible fashion. Back on the wing because of the arrival of Marcus Rosenberg, Molins supplied four goals and three assists in the first six league games, and netted five times in the cup as well. Then, upon his recall to the national team, he scored his first international goal against Iceland. “Gische,” as he is called in the city, has never been so prolific in his career. Those who didn’t rate him have been punished -- Van den Brom was sacked at Anderlecht, while Betis were relegated to Spain’s Segunda Division -- but Molins is on his way to play in the Champions League qualifiers unless he gets an extraordinarily good offer to try his luck abroad again.

One team he would never be able to turn down is Inter Milan. A die-hard Interista ever since Alvaro Recoba, his childhood idol, arrived at San Siro in 1997, Molins has always insisted that he dreams of playing for them, and such a desire only became stronger when Malmo-born Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined the Nerazzurri for a three-year spell in 2006.

Would current coach Walter Mazzarri take a look at him? He probably should. In the meantime, though, Molins feels great at Malmo, and negotiations have started over an extension to his contract, which is due to expire in 2016. With him, Malmo are favourites to retain the title, and an important game is coming up on Thursday: Helsingborg, the only team Molins has stated he would never play for, will host a fiery local derby.

It will be especially important for Hareide, the only coach in history to have taken the reins at Malmo after working at Helsingborg. As a matter of fact, he won the league title with the bitter rivals in 1999, when Malmo were relegated, and not all Malmo fans were happy when he replaced Norling, so he must prove himself as quickly as possible. The captain is certainly doing his very best to help his boss out.