‘A proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.’
It’s the motto that has assisted Tessel Middag to overcome one of the most challenging periods of her life.
In May 2017, the Dutch midfielder received the heart-breaking news that she had suffered an anterior ligament knee injury.
It was the cruellest of blows. It meant that not only would Middag be ruled out for ten months, but she would also miss the UEFA Women’s Euros tournament – in her homeland, no less. Understandably, the 24-year-old admitted at the time she could “barely contain her devastation” at having to be forced to watch on as a spectator for what should have been one of the highlights of her career.
A tactically astute, technically gifted and creative midfielder, Middag had already showed glimpses of her capabilities. Having joined City in the mid-season break of 2016, she went on to help the Blues to a famous league and cup double within the space of four months – a period she deems “better than she could have dreamed.”
The Dutch international continued to impress into the 2017 Spring Series campaign until the injury – sustained during a hard-fought 3-2 victory at Reading – heralded the dreadful news that she faced a lengthy period on the sidelines. After a period of rest, recovery for ligament damage requires long hauls in the gym – with much time away from teammates – and small but significant steps towards milestones.
On a long and trying road to recovery, it is Middag’s mental strength which has powered her through.
“It has been a difficult and frustrating period but I have learned to set small targets, making it easier to reach my main goal,” she reflected.
“I’ve also discovered the phrase: ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ which was new to me but has given me a different and positive outlook.
“I made progress day by day and I couldn’t wait to put on the City shirt again.”
Now, she is back – and the lemonade could not taste sweeter.
A week ago, she made her return to match action with a first half cameo for the Development Squad and on Wednesday night, the moment she had been waiting for finally arrived, as she stepped out onto the Academy Stadium pitch for the senior team’s Champions League quarter-final first leg clash with Linkoping.
Naturally, she received the warmest of welcomes, with the City faithful belting out a rendition of her chant, somewhat fittingly crooned to the tune of ‘Que Sera Sera’.
Introduced on 81 minutes, the Netherlands star did not have too much time to make an impact but she threw herself into the action, marauding forward at every opportunity – the hunger visible for all to see. After the final whistle, her emotions poured out – this time, it was happiness that she could not contain.
“I’m very happy,” she grinned. “There are a lot of emotions – I don’t even know where to start.
“I have thankfulness that I’m back on the pitch again, doing what I love. I’m thankful for my teammates and the Club, who have supported me throughout this very long injury – ten months in total – and I am thankful for my family and friends.
“I feel excitement and joy to be back training every day and to finally be on the right side of the white lines!”
Describing the very moment she stepped back onto the hallowed turf, she added: “It was very special.
“I’d thought about how the moment would feel and I tried to prepare myself to be in the right mindset for when I came on. I think I managed that well. To hear the fans, singing my song was very special and I am very happy.”
As we advance to ‘the business end’ of the season and with City still alive in three competitions – the league title, the FA Cup and the Champions League – it will be intriguing to discover the part Middag will have to play.
Now fully integrated back into the squad and in contention, her manager Nick Cushing has encouraged the midfielder to “take the opportunities when they present themselves” and cement herself as a regular in his XI.
Judging by her positive outlook, unwavering drive and sheer determination over the past year, she’ll grasp that opportunity with both hands. Challenge accepted. Just add lemons.