All Whites captain Winston Reid says he is almost ready to return to training after missing 15 English premier league games for West Ham United with an ankle injury.
Reid, 25, has not played since November 2 when a training ground injury left him hobbling and forced him to miss the All Whites' World Cup playoff series with Mexico.
West Ham have plummeted down the EPL table without their defensive mainstay and club vice-captain. The Hammers lie in 18th place in the 20-team competition, on the same number of points as the two teams below them, Sunderland and Cardiff City.
But, according to the club's website, Reid could be back in first-team contention soon.
Reid said: "I'm as close as I've ever been to returning to training. We'll just have to see how it feels as to how we play it.
"Unfortunately, I had to have an operation and it took a little bit longer than I expected.
"There was a ligament torn in my ankle so they had to repair it by putting a screw through it to stabilise the joint.
"Now, it's pretty much good to go again. It was painful when it happened and it got even worse in the couple of days afterwards, but after that it settled down.
"People probably don't understand but you work hardest when you are injured because the days are pretty long.
"I've been working in the gym and trying to get my body back in shape after spending the initial four weeks after the injury doing nothing, because I wasn't allowed to.
"I had to keep my foot elevated and off the floor but the last seven-odd weeks I've been working hard to get my fitness back."
Reid's return will be welcomed by West Ham supporters. In a blog on the metro.co.uk website, lifelong Hammers fan Julian Shea likened the Kiwi's impact on the club to English wartime leader Winston Churchill.
Shea wrote: "In the darkest hours of the Blitz, the people of the East End took heart from the leadership of Winston Churchill.
"As West Ham's season-long struggle continues following their latest Premier League defeat, once again Eastenders are left hoping a Winston can inspire them to victory - but this one is from New Zealand, not Blenheim Palace.
"For all the attention paid to their problems up front this season, arguably the real reason for West Ham's current plight is weakness at the back, much of it down to the absence of one player - Winston Reid.
"With the Kiwi calling the shots in defence, West Ham kept six clean sheets in their opening 10 Premier League games Since he was ruled out with a long-term ankle injury in November, they have managed just three in 15 games in all competitions - tellingly, against the two teams below them in the league, Sunderland and Cardiff, and the one above them, Fulham.
"Every setback for the other strugglers is a positive for West Ham ... With three out of four games in February against teams in the bottom half of the table, [Reid's] return cannot come soon enough.''
- © Fairfax NZ News