The 'ace' up Glenn Roeder's sleeve this morning insisted that he was feeling as fit as he has done “for years” as 31-year-old Carl Cort signed in for the rest of the season.
Once signed for ?7 million by then Newcastle United boss Sir Bobby Robson, the 6ft 4in striker has been dogged with chronic knee trouble.
His last competitive game in England was for Leicester City last December; he played for Marbella in Spain in April as the one-time Wimbledon youngster scratched around for a living in a game that once upon a time promised to leave the world at his feet.
Indeed, this time last year and Cort this morning admitted that he was seriously considering following his ex-Dons pal Damien Francis into retirement as the wear and tear in his knee cartilege continued to haunt his every move – be it on the pitch or every move off it.
However, four months of intensive one-to-one therapy with freelance physio John Green appears to have worked wonders with Cort's mental and physical well-being; the kind of TLC he always sought may, just, see today's “calculated gamble” by Roeder pay off.
In fairness, fresh from completing the paperwork on his free agent deal, Cort looked and talked the part. Whether he can still play the part is, of course, the $64 million dollar question as he prepares to put that troubled knee through its paces once again.
Makes any sort of appearance at Vicarage Road tomorrow night and that will be his first taste of competitive Championship action since the 2-0 Foxes defeat at Hull City on December 15, 2007.
“It's a fantastic feeling,” said Cort this morning, quizzed as to how it felt to have signed up for the rest of the season – to be back in from the cold; back within the welcoming fold of a football club.
It wasn't exactly his first glimpse of Colney; Cort has been part of Alan Pearson's fitness 'team' for the last fortnight; that way he slipped in under the radar at City's training HQ without too much fuss and performance.
“It's been a strange few months for me with the injuries that I've had and the situations that I've been through,” he added. “But at the moment I'm delighted and I'm just looking forward to cracking on.”
With the on-loan Antoine Sibierski sidelined for at least the next week with a foot injury sustained in training last week and, Roeder revealed, expected to return to Wigan in the New Year, Cort could yet have a 6ft 4in role to play in the course of City's season.
Starting with a place on the bus to Vicarage Road tomorrow night. For now, however, and it is a free signing surrounded by ifs, buts and maybes.
“Probably about this time last year I was considering calling it a day because I've had a series of problems with my knee over several years now. And I think it got to the point where I don't think anybody understood how bad the situation was.”
Cue the arrival of Green and the kind of one-on-one treatment that Cort feels he'd missed. Once of West Ham's back-room staff, Green has said that getting Cort back to playing football again at an elite level would be his biggest achievement to date after working with the likes of both Kieron Dyer and Michael Owen. You sense that his work is as smuch on the player's mental well-being as his physical side.
Albeit on the evidence of one interview, Cort appears focussed, determined and convinced that the darkest days injury-wise are now firmly behind him.
“Recently I've been seeing someone who's been very focussed and very positive towards my knee,” he revealed. “And so far, so good.”
Cured in mind, body and spirit, could Leicester and Marbella's loss, be Norwich's unexpected gain?
“One of the reasons that I was thinking about giving up was the fact that I was bouncing from club to club due to the fact that my knee was playing up,” he said. “So I took a couple on months out to decide what I was going to do; that I was going to give it one more chance and I got put through to this guy. And, as I said, he's done a fantastic job.
“Not just physically, but mentally as well. I feel a lot better in myself and what I'm doing now. The stuff I'm doing in training and the movement – I wasn't able to do before.
“And mentally I feel so much better,” said Cort, which if football is indeed a game that is played in the head then that's a good sign…
“In a way I was dreading going into games and training wondering whether I was going to be able to get through it. But now I don't have any doubts that my knee's not going to hold up. And that's given me more of an incentive to get back playing again.”
The fact that younger brother Leon was having the time of his life with newly-promoted Stoke City was, too, a reason for his big bro to give it another shot. And, on his day, he is the real deal. Sir Bobby was no bad judge of a player and, for a while, Cort was the talk of the Toon.
That he could, potentially, fill a very large hole in Roeder's thinking is also not in doubt. But the proof will only come in the pudding; when he starts to play again.
“I'm fit – obviously there's no substitute for match fitness and obviously that'll come,” said Cort, clearly in a completely different place to where he was 12 months ago.
“It's exciting – I haven't felt this sort of excited in years,” he said. “It feels like you did when you made your debut. But I'm really looking forward to it; the boys have been really good since I've been here; there's a good atmosphere – and that gives me that extra bit of drive to get back into the team.
“And football's a funny thing. If I'm involved tomorrow or Saturday and I have a good game or a good 20 minutes or you score a goal it gives you that little bit of lift to go even further.
“But now I feel as fit as I've ever been in the whole of my career – so I don't think it would take me too long to get that match fitness back.”